Defense attorneys work to free violent crime defendants after Hawaii Supreme Court ruling

More fallout Friday over a state Supreme Court ruling that dismissed a high-profile murder case.
Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 5:20 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 9, 2022 at 7:18 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More fallout Friday over a state Supreme Court ruling that dismissed a high-profile murder case.

Dozens of other violent felony cases are expected to also be thrown out, with suspects likely freed.

Prosecutors are calling for the Legislature to immediately address the issue, and lawmakers are looking at their options.

Attorney Victor Bakke filed a motion to dismiss the sex assault charges against one of his clients, and he is not alone.

“The defense bar is filing them as we speak,” Bakke said. He expects his client to be freed with days.

“If the prosecutors have violated their rights, then it’s unfortunate, but that’s what we have to live with.”

Thursday, the state’s high court ruled that a murder case against Kalihi resident Richard Obrero was fatally flawed because prosecutors charged him by criminal complaint. That happened after a grand jury refused to indict Obrero for shooting a teen allegedly burglarizing his home.

The court cited a state law that prosecutors call outdated.

“We’re not trying to add any additional prosecutorial or police powers to the criminal justice system,” said Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Kelden Waltjen.

“All we’re trying to do is keep things as they were and as they’ve been practiced for the last 40 years.”

Waltjen said a solution is urgent because most of the cases that are in jeopardy involve violence.

Waltjen wants state lawmakers to change the law so that felony cases can be charged via criminal complaint in certain instances.

Prosecutors in some counties say there are not enough grand jury panels to handle the influx of cases that could result from this ruling.

But the Judiciary tells Hawaii News Now that “Each Circuit will be increasing the number of grand jury hearings.”

Waltjen said the issue is so urgent he wants lawmakers to call a special session to change the statute he calls, “obsolete.”

State senators we spoke with don’t believe a special session will happen but agree this will be an issue for the upcoming session.

“Any sort of legislative fix tends to be fairly complex when it comes to these kinds of issues, and needs to be vetted,” said state Sen. Chris Lee, of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“There’s definitely a process to it.”

In the meantime, dozens of cases are expected to be dismissed without prejudice, giving prosecutors time to present the case to a grand jury.

Prosecutors fear the release of potentially dangerous offenders will happen before they can get indictments.

The attorneys are requesting emergency hearings, hoping to get on the court calendar by next week.

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