Can The State Add Witnesses To The Complaint After Is Filed?
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. Bell, 41 P.3d 783 (Kan. 2002).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can the State add witnesses to the complaint after it is filed?
This case explored the question of whether the State could add witnesses to the complaint after it was filed. The court stated that the right of the State to list additional witnesses was up to the trial court, and its ruling would not be disturbed on appeal unless it was shown that the trial court was really out of line in allowing the additional witnesses. Id. at 288. Furthermore, the test to determine if the trial court was out of line was whether the defendant’s rights had been prejudiced. Id.
During the early morning hours of September 4, 1998, the victim walked passed a house party. Id. at 786. The defendant left the house, approached the victim, and knocked him down. Id. The victim regained his feet and left. Id. Later, a man armed with a shotgun confronted the partygoers and asked why the victim had been assaulted. Id. After the armed man left, the victim returned looking for his glasses. Id. The defendant then picked up an object described as a baseball bat or 2-by-4, crept up behind the victim, and hit him in the head. Id. The victim died in the hospital ten days later. Id. The defendant had testified that he thought the victim had a gun and was threatening the defendant’s friends. Id. However, the defendant’s friends were urging him not to harm the victim. Id. In the end, the defendant was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for a period of ten years. Id. After the conviction, the defendant appealed. Id.
The defendant argued that the trial court erred in allowing the State to list a witness on the second day of trial. Id. at 788. In response, the State argued that the witness’s statement was provided to the defendant during pretrial discovery and again on the first day of trial and her testimony could come as no surprise. Id. Further, the State contended that its failure to list the witness was purely an oversight. Id.
The court stated that the right of the State to list additional witnesses was up to the trial court, and its ruling would not be disturbed on appeal unless it was shown that the trial court was really out of line in allowing the additional witnesses. Id. Also, the court explained that the test to see if the trial court was out of line was whether the defendant’s rights had been prejudiced. Id. Furthermore, the court stated that an appellate court would generally uphold a late listing of a witness on the complaint unless the defendant was surprised and the testimony was critical to the outcome of the case. Id. With this in mind, the court noted that to sustain a claim of reversible error, a defendant must have objected to the late listing of the witness and must have been denied a request for continuance of the trial. Id.
In the present case, the defendant did not request a continuance when faced with the listing of the witness on the second day of trial. Id. Also, the court found that there was no indication that the defendant was surprised by the content of the witness’s testimony and there was no indication in the record that the defendant had changed his trial strategy based upon the listing of the witness. Id. In sum, the court stated that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the listing of the witness on the second day of trial. Id.