What Do You Do If You Can’t Determine What Actions Were Illegal By Reading The Complaint?
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. Rojas-Marceleno, 285 P.3d 361 (Kan. 2012).
This case addresses the following issue:
If you cannot determine with clarity what the complaint alleges a defendant has done wrong what do you do?
This case explored the issue of what you do if you cannot determine with clarity what the complaint alleges that the defendant did wrong. The court found that when a complaint, information, or indictment fails to specify the particulars of the crime charged sufficiently to enable the defendant to prepare a defense, the law permits the court, on written motion of the defendant, to require the prosecuting attorney to furnish the defendant with a bill of particulars. Id. at 369-70. According to the court, a bill of particulars has two functions: (1) to inform the defendant of the nature of the charges and the evidence to enable him to prepare a defense, and (2) to prevent prosecution for the same offense. Id. at 370.
The defendant, a 24 year old male, was charged with five counts of rape, ten counts of aggravated criminal sodomy, and one count of aggravated indecent solicitation of a child. Id. at 367. The victim was the defendant’s 13 year old niece. Id. After finding sexually explicit text messages sent by the victim to the defendant, the victim’s mother and aunt found out that the victim was in a sexual relationship with the defendant. Id. Prior to the trial, the district court denied the defendant’s motion for a bill of particulars. Id. At the end of trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of one count of rape, three counts of aggravated criminal sodomy, and one count of aggravated indecent solicitation of a child. Id.
The defendant claimed that the district court erred in denying his motion for a bill of particulars. Id. at 369. In particular, the defendant filed the bill of particulars because he felt like the complaint was not specific enough with regards to the alleged crime and the alleged date or dates of the crime. Id. at 370. In response, the State argued that the complaint sufficiently alleged time frames and the bill of particulars was unnecessary because the State had provided the defendant with full discovery and the State could not establish the exact dates of the alleged crimes. Id.
The court explained that a complaint must contain a plain and concise written statement of the essential facts constituting the crime charged. Id. Additionally, the court noted that a complaint was generally sufficient if it was drawn in the language of the statute, and the precise time of the crime need not be stated in the complaint but was sufficient if it was shown to have been within the statute of limitations (period of limitation for bringing about the legal action), except where the time was a necessary ingredient in the offense. Id. However, the court found that when a complaint, information, or indictment failed to specify the particulars of the crime charged sufficiently to enable the defendant to prepare a defense, the law permited the court, on written motion of the defendant, to require the prosecuting attorney to furnish the defendant with a bill of particulars. Id. at 369-70. Nonetheless, the granting of a bill of particulars was up to the district court unless the complaint was so lacking that the defendant was not informed of the charges against which he or she must defend. Id. at 370.
In response to the defendant’s argument, the court held that the State was not required to prove the offenses occurred within the statute of limitations because time was not a necessary ingredient in the offense. Id. at 371. Also, the court held that since the crimes alleged were sex crimes against a child, the State was permitted to allege approximate time frames. Id.
In sum, despite the complaint not being overly specific about the time frames of the crime, the court denied the defendant’s motion for a bill of particulars. Id.
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