CAN THE JUDGE GIVE THE PROSECUTION THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT AT A PRELIMINARY HEARING?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Washington, 268 P.3d 475 (Kan. 2012).
This case answers the following question:
Can the judge give the prosecution the benefit of the doubt at a preliminary hearing?
The issue in this case is whether the judge can give the prosecution the benefit of the doubt at a preliminary hearing. In determining if the standard of probable cause is satisfied, as necessary to bind defendant over on felony charge, the judge at a preliminary hearing must draw inferences favorable to the prosecution from the evidence presented and should not be concerned with sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction.
In this case, Washington and three other men were riding around in a car when one of them suggested they do a robbery. They decided the target should be Bagsby since he sold marijuana. Washington knew where Bagsby lived, so he provided directions to his home. When the group arrived at Bagsby’s home, one of the men knocked on the door. Bagsby’s wife answered, and the men asked for weed. The men then entered the house and a scuffle ensured. Bagsby was fatally shot during the scuffle. During the scuffle, Washington was standing to the side of the door, while the other men entered the house.
Washington was charged with first-degree felony murder and attempted aggravated robbery after the death of Bagsby during an attempted robbery. Washington was 17 at the time, and the State moved for adult prosecution. The district court approved the motion based on evidence presented at an evidentiary hearing. The court then used that evidence to find probable cause to bind Washington over for arraignment in adult criminal court. The first trial ended in a mistrial, but Washington was found guilty on both counts by the jury in the second trial. Washington appealed arguing that there was insufficient evidence presented at his preliminary hearing.
In determining if the standard of probable cause is satisfied, as necessary to bind defendant over on felony charge, the judge at a preliminary hearing must draw inferences favorable to the prosecution from the evidence presented and should not be concerned with sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction. Even where the evidence is weak, the defendant should be bound over for trial if the evidence tends to disclose that the offense charged was committed and that the defendant committed it. Here, there was enough evidence presented to establish probable cause, regardless of whether it would be sufficient to support a conviction. At the preliminary hearing, there was sufficient evidence to establish that the crimes of attempted aggravated robbery and felony murder had happened, and there was probable cause that Washington, acting as an aider and abettor, committed these crimes. To establish these things at the preliminary hearing, the State presented evidence including testimony of one of the accomplices and testimony from a police officer who reported to the scene.
The Supreme Court of Kansas affirmed the decision below. The court found that the State had presented sufficient evidence at the preliminary hearing to determine that.