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. Howland, 110 P.2d 801 (Kan. 1941).
This case answers the following question:
Who is entitled to a preliminary hearing?
The issue in this case is who is entitled to a preliminary hearing. The right of a person charged with a felony to a preliminary hearing is a fundamental basic, and substantial right, and a person who is deprived of that right is prejudiced.
In this case, a minor female notified a justice of the peace that Howland had ravished her. A warrant was issues for Howland, and a preliminary hearing was held. At the preliminary hearing, the justice of the peace held that the evidence given shows a crime has been committed and that the defendant may be has committed said rape or crime. Howland filed a plea in abatement alleging that no judge had found the offense charged had been committed in Greeley county or that there was probable cause to believe Howland was guilty of the offense. Howland was convicted of the crime of statutory rape, and he appealed with the question of whether he was properly bound over for trial in the district court as a result of his preliminary hearings.
The right of a person charged with a felony to a preliminary hearing is a fundamental basic, and substantial right, and a person who is deprived of that right is prejudiced. The right to a preliminary hearing, and all that is required by statute in respect thereto before a person may be informed against in the district court, is a substantial right, which, under any guise, ought not to be frittered away. It is the duty of the justice of the peace when holding a preliminary hearing to decide whether a crime has been committed, and, if so, whether there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed the crime. If the state’s case is so weak it cannot make a showing at the preliminary hearing sufficient to convince the examining magistrate there is probable cause to believe the accused guilty, certainly he should not be committed for trial; on the other hand, if the state has a strong case, it casts no undue burden on it, that it make a sufficient disclosure to convince the magistrate there is probable cause. In this case, the justice of the peace did not find probable cause at the preliminary hearing, but rather found that Howland “may be has committed said crime.” At most, the justice of the peace found that there was a possibility of guilt, not a probability.
The Supreme Court of Kansas reversed the decision of the trial court. The trial court erred in not sustaining Howland’s plea in abatement, and what happened at the trial is a nullity. Howland did not receive a proper preliminary hearing, and he should not have been bound over. The Supreme Court of Kansas found that the justice of the peace did not make a finding of probable cause at the preliminary hearing, therefore he should not have ordered Howland to be bound over to the District Court.