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. Niblock, 631 P.2d 667 (Kan. 1981).
This case addresses the following issue:
Is the defendant entitled to a hearing before a complaint can be amended/modified?
This case explored the issue of whether the defendant was entitled to a hearing before a complaint could be amended/modified. While the defendant attempted to use a Kansas statute to defend his argument that the modification of the complaint should not be allowed, the court ended up holding that a hearing was not required to be held prior to the decision to modify the complaint. Id. at 667.
The facts surrounding the case took place outside of a tavern. Id. at 663. After the bartender closed down the tavern at midnight, she collected all the money from the register, an estimated $500, and started for her car intending to deposit the money. Id. As the bartender was approaching her car, she noticed the defendant standing in the shadows behind her car. Id. The defendant walked up to her and demanded the money. Id. She replied, “You don’t want this money.” Id. At that point, the defendant pulled out a gun and threatened the bartender. Id. She then gave up the money and then immediately drove to the Law Enforcement Center to report the incident. Id. The bartender was able to describe the defendant’s appearance and, after about one hour, the police were able to apprehend the man and charge him with aggravated robbery, felony theft, and unlawful possession of a firearm. Id. at 664. With this in mind, the original complaint was filed on April 29, 1980. Id. at 667. However, ten days later, on May 9, 1980, a modified complaint was filed adding one count of aggravated assault. Id. The defendant objected to the modification and filed motions to dismiss and suppress which were overruled. Id. at 665. In the end, the defendant was convicted on all counts. Id.
The defendant argued that the filing of a modified complaint, adding a count to the charges (aggravated assault), without a hearing violated a Kansas statute. Id. at 667. The statute provided that, “The court may permit a complaint or information to be amended at any time before verdict or finding if no additional or different crime is charged and if substantial rights of the defendant are not prejudiced.” Id. In addition, the defendant alleged that the trial curt erred in approving the modified complaint because the approval was done without a court hearing and because the modified complaint added a different crime. Id.
The main issue the court addressed was whether prejudice occurred to the defendant under the Kansas statute. Id. Based on a prior Kansas state case, the court noted that the prosecution was given wide discretion in modifying the complaint as to form and substance prior to trial. Id. Furthermore, the court noted that the statute does not explicitly require that a hearing be held prior to the decision to modify a complaint. Id. In fact, the absence of such a hearing was not an error. Id. Therefore, it was not error to allow the prosecutor to add a different crime, and the defendant failed to show that he was prejudiced, which he needed to do in order to obtain reversal on those grounds. Id.
In sum, the trial court was not required to hold a hearing prior to the State modifying the complaint to include the additional charge of aggravated assault. Id.