Lawmakers move to fix fallout from Supreme Court ruling on felony charging
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Prosecutors described it as a public safety crisis this fall when the state Supreme Court said felons could only be charged by a grand jury.
Law enforcement called for a special legislative session to fix the law, which never happened.
Instead, he state Senate took the first step to plugging the loophole Thursday.
The problems all stem from the so-called Obrero decision.
In 2019, Richard Obrero shot and killed teenager Starsky Willy.
Obrero claimed self-defense. After prosecutors failed to get an indictment from a grand jury, they succeeded in getting a murder charge from a judge in preliminary hearing.
Last year, the Supreme Court dismissed the case on a 3-2 decision, saying serious felonies could only be charged by a grand jury.
In a Senate hearing last month, cityProsecutor Steve Alm said his office was still working to keep suspects charged by judges from being released. “At the time we had about 174 cases as of a couple of weeks ago we are down to about 80 some,” Alm said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Karl Rhoads authored a fix after meeting with both prosecutors and defense attorneys before the legislative session began. He said he was glad that the dire predictions of freed felons didn’t come true.
“As far as I know, no one or almost no one was released early,” Rhoads said. “The Judiciary allowed them to hold people for a while so that they could recharge them under the grand jury. But we did want them to be able to charge both ways.”
The Senate approved the change Thursday without objections, even from public defenders.
That’s because the Senate bill will not allow prosecutors to do what they did with Obrero ― go from grand jury to preliminary hearing, or let prosecutors try more than once to get an indictment at the grand jury.
“You can go back if you have new material evidence, which basically means you just can’t take the same case back over and over again,” Rhoads said.
The bill will now move to the state House, where leaders said it will also get expedited consideration and could be one of the first bills signed into law this year.
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