How Specific Does The Complaint Have To Be When Describing The Time The Crime Occurred?
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. Nunn, 768 P.2d 268 (Kan. 1989).
This case addresses the following issue:
How specific does the complaint have to be when describing the time in which the crime occurred?
This case explored the question of how specific a complaint has to be when describing the time in which the crime occurred. In particular, this case answers the question of whether a prosecutor can change the time frame stated in the original complaint during trial. In the present case, the victims were young children so the time frame became more certain to them as the trial progressed. Id. at 283. The court found that the defendant had cited no case holding that a one-year time frame for commission of an offense was so vague and uncertain as to render the information constitutionally insufficient absent some showing of prejudice. Id.
The defendant, a recently married man, was charged with four counts of indecent liberties with a child and three counts of aggravated criminal sodomy. Id. at 272. The victims in the case were four young girls ranging in ages from 10 to 14. Id. One of the girls was the sister of the defendant’s wife. Id. The young girls would sleep over at the defendant’s house where he would supply them with alcohol and all four girls testified that the defendant inappropriately touched them. Id. At the close of the State’s evidence, the prosecuting attorney orally moved to change the dates in the complaint to conform to the evidence and testimony of the witnesses. Id. The district court granted the motion and the jury returned a verdict of guilty of all seven counts. Id.
Since the girls were so young when the acts occurred, the original complaint was not specific in regards to the dates when the alleged acts of sexual conduct took place. Id. at 279. Therefore, when the testimony at trial revealed the acts occurred during an entirely different time than indicated in the original complaint, the court allowed the State to amend the original complaint to reflect the new time frame. Id. The court quoted Kansas law stating, “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. at 280. Further, the court determined that when the change in trime frame was made during trial with the defendant and defense counsel present, it was effective immediately absent any showing of prejudice to the defendant. Id. at 281.
The defendant asserted that the change of the time frame substantially prejudiced his ability to defend against the allegations of the complaint. Id. at 281. In response, the court noted that time was not an crucial ingredient of the offense of indecent liberties with a child or aggravated criminal sodomy and failure to specify a definite date and time for the alleged offense did not deprive the defendant of his Sixth Amendment right to know the nature and cause of the accusations against him. Id. at 282-83.
The next challenge of the defendant was that his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law was violated when the prosecution was permitted to orally change the original complaint. Id. at 283. Further, the defendant argued that the changed one-year time frame in which the offenses allegedly occurred had the effect of preventing preparation or any meaningful defense. Id. The court looked to Kansas law to determine the definition of a complaint and found that “the precise time of the commission of an offense need not be stated in the [complaint]; but it is sufficient if shown to have been within the statute of limitations, except where the time is an crucial ingredient in the offense.” Id. The court found that it was not unusual for uncertainty as to dates to appear where the memories of children were involved. Id. Additionally, the court stated that the new time frame did not impact the defendant because he was not relying on an alibi; he simply denied having ever committed any sexual acts towards the complainants. Id.
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