Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Lawmakers revisit
prosecution bill

The Legislature must OK a
new vote on the proposed amendment

The state Legislature has to try again on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow prosecutors to bypass grand juries when charging felony suspects.

Legislature 2004
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State Legislature: Bills
& Hawaii Revised Statutes

Lawmakers want the proposed amendment back on the ballot this year after last November's vote approving the amendment was invalidated by the Hawaii Supreme Court last month.

On Friday, the high court expanded on the original ruling and ordered that to get the amendment on this November's ballot, the Legislature must pass another bill re-authorizing the vote.

The amendment, approved by voters in the 2002 general elections, would have let prosecutors charge suspects with felonies without presenting evidence before a judge or grand jury.

Friday's ruling was in response to a request for clarification from state Attorney General Mark Bennett, who asked the high court whether its earlier decision automatically triggers a new election and if the election can be conducted in November.

A bill to put the proposed amendment back on the ballot is moving in the Legislature, Bennett said. "We're very happy that the matter will be placed on the ballot in 2004."

Proposed constitutional amendments need approval of two-thirds of each house of the Legislature before they can be placed on the ballot.

The bill, Senate Bill 2851, SD1, won approval of the Senate earlier this month by an 18-5 vote with two senators absent. The bill won the approval of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday and could face a final vote of the House as early as Monday.

The high court struck down the 2002 ballot vote because the state failed to publish the full text of the proposed amendment in a newspaper for a full month before the election.

Police and prosecutors say the ability to charge suspects by presenting affidavits to a judge saves them time and money, keeps officers on the street rather than in court, and requires fewer court appearances of witnesses.

Opponents, led by defense attorneys, say the procedure violates accused suspects' due process rights and will wind up costing prosecutors more money because there will be more trials and fewer plea agreements.


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