CAN YOU ASSERT IMMUNITY FROM PROSECUTION 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. Evans, 389 P.3d 1278 (Kan. 2017).
This case answers the following question:
Can you assert immunity from prosecution at a preliminary hearing?
The issue in this case is whether one can assert immunity from prosecution, such as self-defense, at a preliminary hearing. Once a defendant raises justified use-of-force immunity before a court, a probable cause determination for holding defendant over for trial must include a determination that the defendant’s use of force was not justified under the statutes.
In this case, Evans and Pena were drinking in Evans’ garage when the two decided to compete in some mixed martial arts or jiu jitsu style wrestling. Evans pulled a wrestling mat onto his driveway, and the two began a friendly wrestling match. Eventually, the match soured. Evans claimed that Pena put his hand over Evans’ mouth in an attempt to suffocate him, but Pena argues that Evans got upset for no reason. Evans escaped Pena’s grasp, retreated into his garage, and grabbed a katana-style sword. Evans asserts that Pena advanced on Evans in the garage threatening to kill Evans, so Evans stabbed Pena in the abdomen. Pena claims he never entered Evans’ garage, but crime scene photographs show that a blood-trail started in the garage. Pena also claimed Evans stabbed him in the arms while Pena was defending himself, but no such injuries were seen by the operating surgeon or added to Pena’s medical records. Evans called 911 and told law enforcement that he had stabbed Pena in self-defense. The State charged Evans with aggravated battery, and Evans moved for a grant of immunity at the preliminary hearing. The district granted Evans immunity and dismissed the charges. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision and reinstated the complaint.
Once a defendant raises justified use-of-force immunity before a court, a probable cause determination for holding defendant over for trial must include a determination that the defendant’s use of force was not justified under the statutes. In deciding a motion for immunity, the district court must consider the totality of the circumstances, weight the evidence without deference to the State, and determine whether the State has met its burden to establish probable cause that the defendant’s use of force was not statutorily justified. Here, the district court found that Pena was not credible given the contrary evidence to his testimony. The State presented no other evidence or stipulated facts at the preliminary hearing that supported the claim that Evans’ use of force was not statutorily justified. The Court of Appeals also erred by holding that the district court should have viewed the evidence in a light favoring the State. The Supreme Court of Kansas precedent holds that the evidence should be viewed without deference to the State.
The Supreme Court of Kansas reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed the decision of the district court. The court held that immunity was properly granted, and the charge was properly dismissed. Evans properly raised a self-defense immunity at the preliminary hearing.