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. Stephens, 953 P.2d 1373 (Kan. 1998).
This case answers the following question:
What is the purpose of a preliminary hearing?
The issue in this case is determining the purpose of a preliminary hearing. Purpose of preliminary examination is to determine whether it appears that a felony has been committed and that there is probable cause to believe defendant committed the offense, and if those findings are made, magistrate will bind defendant over for arraignment.
In this case, the Smiths were looking to buy a business, and they found a liquor store available that was owned by Stephens. The Smiths met with Stephens several times to go through reports of the store’s expenses and income, including tax forms. The Smiths entered an agreement with Stephens to purchase the liquor store for $59,000. After beginning operation of the business, the Smiths discovered that their gross receipts were about half of what Stephens had represented them to be. The State charged Stephens with a crime of felony theft of property worth $25,000 or more. After considering the evidence presented by the State at the preliminary hearing, the trial court dismissed the case for lack of probable cause. The court found that the State had failed to present evidence that the Smiths had been harmed by at least $25,000 by the misrepresentations made by Stephens, since they did receive some value when they purchased the liquor store. Specifically, the deficiency of the evidence was in the “value element of the crime.” The State appealed the dismissal based on the fact that there was no proof on an essential element of the charged crime.
Purpose of preliminary examination is to determine whether it appears that a felony has been committed and that there is probable cause to believe defendant committed the offense, and if those findings are made, magistrate will bind defendant over for arraignment. In weighing the evidence, the magistrate must determine (1) whether there is a reasonable ground of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves, to cause a person of ordinary prudence and caution to conscientiously entertain a reasonable belief a felony has been committed and (2) if so, whether there is sufficient evidence to cause a person of ordinary prudence and caution to conscientiously entertain a reasonable belief of the accused’s guilt.
In this case, the State argued that the stolen property was the cashier’s check given to Stephens. The state argued that the Smiths would never have given up the cashier’s check if they had known the representations made by Smith were false. The State relied on two Kansas cases in its argument. The first case held that the fraud was complete once the false representations were made and the money was obtained on faith of the representations. The second case held that “it is the value of the personal property stolen, not the interest the owner has in it, which determines the offense.” In this case, the theft occurred at the moment the Smiths were induced by the false representations to give the cashier’s check to Stephens.
The Supreme Court of Kansas reversed the decision of the district court, remanding the case with directions to reinstate the complaint. The Supreme Court of Kansas held that value of what the Smiths received in return for the $59,000 was immaterial in determining the degree of the theft. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support a probable cause finding that Stephens committed felony theft. The Supreme Court of Kansas held that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint at the preliminary hearing.