Lawmakers eye special session to tackle ruling that’s put hundreds of felony cases at risk
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - High-profile criminal cases over the weekend had prosecutors on Hawaii Island scrambling in an effort to keep the suspects in custody.
That’s because a recent state Supreme Court ruling requires grand jury indictments for felony crimes.
But prosecutors said there aren’t enough grand jury panels to get indictments before the 48-hour time limit expires.
“When someone is arrested for a criminal offense, the police have 48 hours to investigate and determine if they’re going to file criminal charges,” said Kelden Waltjen, the Hawaii County prosecuting attorney.
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For decades, prosecutors have used criminal complaints to keep potentially dangerous suspects from walking free.
Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said the ruling especially impacts the neighbor islands because there are so few grand jury panels. The state Judiciary is adding grand jury panels for each county starting next week, but it’s not expected to be enough.
Honolulu will going from approximately 12 sessions a month to 16 sessions.
Kauai is getting an additional panel per month, going from one meeting to two.
Maui and the Big Island will also get an additional monthly grand jury session for a total of four each.
Prosecutors and the mayor said this is just a temporary solution.
“I really want to make a plea to our legislators to go back into a special session as quickly as possible to fix this law,” said Roth.
Waltjen warned that “there’s going to be an influx of cases that may get dismissed” if there isn’t a legislative fix soon.
And it’s not just new criminal cases that are impacted. Pending felonies, including murder, that were charged via complaint are also at risk. In Honolulu, more than 160 such cases have been identified. On Hawaii Island, there are 220 pending cases.
Waltjen said they cannot afford to wait until the state Legislature reconvenes next year.
There is a special session being planned to handle judicial appointments next month. But that only includes the Senate. The Governor’s Office said Gov. David Ige is working with legislative leaders to discuss a special session over the ruling, too.
The governor could call a special session or lawmakers could do it themselves with two-thirds approval in the House and Senate.
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