WHY ARE YOU ENTITLED TO 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. Jones, 228 P.3d 394 (Kan. 2010).
This case answers the following question:
Why do you get a preliminary hearing?
The issue in this case is why do you get a preliminary hearing? The statutorily-mandated preliminary hearing is the method utilized in Kansas to satisfy the Fourth Amendment right of a person to be free from extended pretrial restraint of liberty without a judicial determination of probable cause to support the detention or restriction on liberty.
In this case, Jones’ ex-fiancée was driving her car when a van, driven by Jones, rammed into the driver’s side of her car. Jones then jumped from his car with a gun and started running toward his ex-fiancée. In an attempt to get away from Jones, his ex-fiancée sped through an intersection, but she was struck by another vehicle and unable to drive any further. Then Jones pulled her from her car, holding the gun to her head. The ex-fiancée attempted to resist Jones, but after being thrown on the ground, she stopped resisting and walked to an apartment with Jones. Jones and his ex-fiancée proceeded to have sexual intercourse in the apartment, and then Jones left. The ex-fiancée went to a friend’s apartment to call 911. Her story was corroborated by the man who struck her car in the intersection. Jones was charged with aggravated kidnapping and rape. Jones filed a motion to represent himself during the preliminary hearing, but the court denied the motion. The jury found Jones guilty of aggravated kidnapping and rape, and he was sentenced to 586 months for the aggravated kidnapping and 155 months for the rape conviction. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions.
The statutorily-mandated preliminary hearing is the method utilized in Kansas to satisfy the Fourth Amendment right of a person to be free from extended pretrial restraint of liberty without a judicial determination of probable cause to support the detention or restriction on liberty. A preliminary hearing is a very important step in the criminal process. The point of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is probable cause sufficient to bring a defendant to trial. During a preliminary hearing, the accused is given an opportunity to introduce evidence on his behalf and cross-examine the opposition’s witnesses. This is critically important because it gives the defendant an opportunity to expose fatal weaknesses in the opposition’s case, it can be used as the foundation to discredit a witness at trial, and it gives the defendant an opportunity to preview the nature of the case, so he can make a proper defense.
The main issue in this case was whether the decision should be reversed if the district court erred in denying Jones’ motion to represent himself at the preliminary hearing. In order to determine if Jones was capable of representing himself, the district court looked at Jones’ legal training, and denied the motion finding that he was not well trained in the law. The Court of Appeals found that the test used to determine Jones’ ability was erroneous, but that the error was harmless. The Supreme Court of Kansas disagreed, finding that the error was structural, meaning it was not eligible for a harmless-error analysis. In order to be able to represent oneself in court, one does not need to be well versed in the law. Instead, one must clearly and unequivocally express a wish to proceed representing themselves after a knowing and intelligent waiver of one’s right to counsel. A knowing and intelligent waiver includes an instruction from the judge of the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation, so that the record reflects that the defendant “knows what he is doing, and his choice is made with eyes open.”
The Supreme Court of Kansas reversed and remanded the case. The Court held that the criminal proceedings against Jones needed to be reinitiated, including giving Jones a new preliminary hearing. The Supreme Court of Kansas choose not to speculate what might have happened had the district court followed constitutional procedures in determining whether to grant or deny Jones’ motion to represent himself at the preliminary hearing. Therefore, the case must be restarted with the preliminary hearing, giving Jones the opportunity to again move to represent himself.