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. Taylor, 594 P.2d 262 (Kan. Ct. App. 1979).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can a person be arraigned at their first appearance?
This court explored the issue of whether a person can be arraigned at their first appearance. In exploring this issue, the court concluded that a person can be arraigned at their first appearance if the charge was a misdemeanor. Id. at 265. However, if the charge was a felony, a person would normally not be arraigned at their first appearance. Id.
The defendant had been employed by the Kansas Department of Human Resources and was terminated on August 31, 1977. Id. at 264. On September 19, 1977, the defendant visited his former supervisor asking for his last paycheck. Id. When the supervisor informed the defendant that the paycheck would not be available until the end of the month, the defendant pulled out a butcher knife and made a thrust at the supervisor. Id. According to the defendant’s testimony, the so-called “butcher knife” was actually a fourteen-inch-long fingernail cleaner and he had no intention of harming the supervisor. Id. Nonetheless, the defendant was convicted of aggravated assault (a felony) on March 20, 1978. Id.
The defendant’s main argument revolved around a Kansas statute which stated, “If any person charged with a crime and held in jail solely by reason thereof shall not be brought to trial within 90 days after such person’s arraignment on the charge, such person shall be entitled to be discharged from further liability . . . .” Id. In this case, the defendant was arrested on September 21 and appeared before a judge on September 22 where the judge referred to the defendant’s appearance as an “arraignment.” Id. An arraignment consists of reading the complaint, information or indictment to the defendant or stating to him the substance of the charge and calling upon him to plea. Id. at 265. So, after the September 22 meeting with the judge, nothing occurred until December 21 when the defendant moved to dismiss the charges because 90 days had passed since his arraignment. Id. at 264. However, on January 4, the court overruled the motion to dismiss and set the case for a preliminary hearing on January 13. Id. Furthermore, on January 27, the defendant was arraigned (again). Id.
Ultimately, the court had to answer the question of whether the defendant’s September 22 first appearance in front of the judge was his arraignment or if the January 27 appearance was his arraignment. Id. In order to answer this question, the court went over the timeline of what would normally occur to a defendant after being arrested. Id. The court stated: After being arrested, the defendant would make his or her first appearance in front of the judge; then the defendant would have a right to a preliminary hearing if the charge was a felony; then the defendant would be bound over for trial and the prosecutor would file the information charging the crime; and then the defendant would be arraigned. Id. at 265.
The court concluded that the defendant’s first appearance in front of the judge did not constitute an arraignment because the Kansas statute stated that a felony arraignment was to occur only after a preliminary hearing. Id. at 265. And since there was no preliminary hearing before the defendant’s first appearance, the appearance did not constitute as an arraignment. Id. Therefore, the 90-day period did not begin to run until the formal arraignment on January 27. Id. at 266.
The court went onto to further state that, if this case only involved a misdemeanor instead of a felony, the defendant’s first appearance could have been considered a formal arraignment provided the requirements of an arraignment were met. Id. This would be because a defendant who was charged with a misdemeanor does not have a right to a preliminary hearing like a defendant who was charged with a felony does. Id. at 265.