IF A DEFENDANT WAIVES A PRELIMINARY HEARING, CAN THE STATE STILL PUT IT ON ANYWAY?
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. Boone, 218 Kan. 482 (Kan. 1975).
This case answers the following question:
If a defendant waives a preliminary hearing, can the State still put it on anyway?
The issue in this case is if a defendant waives a preliminary hearing, whether the State can still put it on anyway. Right of the State to introduce evidence at a preliminary hearing cannot be defeated by accused’s waiving the preliminary hearing.
In this case, Boone was charged with unlawful possession of firearms, which is a felony under Kansas state law. At his preliminary hearing, Boone asserted that the judge was not a lawyer and had little judicial experience. For those reasons, Boone objected to the preliminary hearing. The judge overruled his objection, held the preliminary hearing, and bound Boone over for trial. At arraignment, Boone raised the same objections and moved to dismiss the information field against him. The district court sustained the motion, and the State appealed.
Right of the State to introduce evidence at a preliminary hearing cannot be defeated by accused’s waiving the preliminary hearing. The purpose of a preliminary hearing is: (1) to inform the defendant of the nature and character of the crime charged against him; (2) to perpetuate testimony; and (3) to determine bail. The State may have a legitimate interest in holding a preliminary hearing, but the primary benefit of a preliminary hearing is for the accused. The magistrate at a preliminary hearing serves a limited function; he or she determines whether a crime has been committed and whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed it. At a preliminary hearing, the magistrate cannot determine the guilt or innocence of the accused, acquit the accused, or accept a plea of guilty to the charge.
The issue on appeal is whether the defendant’s rights to due process and equal protection of the laws under the federal constitution are violated when the defendant is required to submit to a preliminary hearing where the judge is not a lawyer. Unless there is a statutory or constitutional requirement, a judge does not need to be a lawyer. The fact that judicial error may be made in a proceeding does not imply a denial of due process of law. Due process does not assure uniformity of judicial decisions or immunity from judicial error. In fact, jurors are lay persons who decide whether to return an indictment, and that is similar to what a magistrate does when he or she makes a finding of probable cause in a preliminary hearing. The legal system has long entrusted nonlawyers to make and evaluate complex decisions. States are entitled to some leeway and flexibility in designating their judges, so long as all are neutral, detached, and capable of determining probable cause.
The Supreme Court of Kansas reversed the decision of the lower court, remanding for further proceedings. The defendant failed to show that nonlawyer judges are incapable of determining probable cause fairly, impartially, and correctly at a preliminary hearing. The court held that due process is not denied in the use of nonlawyer judges in holding a preliminary hearing.