2,500 felony cases get isle fast track
So-called "information charging" also spares 9,000 witnesses, say county prosecutors
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County prosecutors say a law streamlining procedures before criminal trials is saving time and money.
The law, which went into effect in November 2004, has saved 9,000 witnesses -- some of them fragile victims -- from having to appear before a judge or grand jury.
Before the law, police, judges, witnesses and others had to attend or conduct preliminary hearings or grand jury proceedings to bring felony cases to trial.
But three years later, prosecutors have brought 2,500 Class B and C felony cases to trial based on a judge's review of testimony from investigating detectives and written statements from witnesses. Class B felonies are punishable by up to 10 years in prison, while Class C felonies carry a five-year prison maximum.
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More than 2,500 felony cases have been fast-tracked under a 2004 law that has saved more than 9,000 witnesses from testifying before grand juries or at preliminary hearings, new reports reveal.
The statistics are included in reports each county prosecutor submitted to state lawmakers for the upcoming legislative session. The reports cover the period from when the law took effect in November 2004 until the end of November 2007.
In their reports, Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle and Maui Prosecutor Benjamin Acob praise the cost-saving benefits of the law. With so-called "information charging," police officers, evidence specialists, prosecutors, judges and court personnel do not have to attend and conduct preliminary hearings and grand jury proceedings.
They also praise the law for reducing the emotional impact on crime victims by saving them from having to testify before a judge or grand jury prior to trial.
"The reports say what I anticipated they would say," said state Rep. Blake Oshiro, House Judiciary Committee vice chairman.
According to Hawaii's information-charging law, a judge decides whether a defendant should face trial for certain Class B and C felonies after reviewing a declaration from the investigating detective and written statements from witnesses.
Previously, those felony cases advanced to trial either by the finding of a judge following a preliminary hearing or by grand jury indictment.
In both cases, prosecutors present evidence and witness testimony.
Oshiro said lawmakers required county prosecutors to submit the reports to see if indeed information charging results in the benefits predicted by law enforcement officials and to see how often they use the law. He said the report also gives proponents of information charging a basis for defending the law, and critics something with which to challenge it.
Oshiro says he still has philosophical reservations with information charging because it allows for the use of hearsay evidence.
"Overall, it's a good thing if it moves the system along more quickly. People can have justice more quickly," he said.
Lawmakers did not require a report from defense attorneys. However, state Public Defender Jack Tonaki said that since prosecutors worked out the procedures and everybody involved got used to processing charges brought through information, he has not encountered any problems.
Carlisle said defense attorneys on Oahu have challenged findings in information charging fewer than 20 times, and judges have yet to grant any requests to dismiss the charges.
Tonaki said there have been few challenges because the list of offenses eligible for information charging are primarily property crimes. And he believes violent crimes should not be added to the list.
Carlisle and Acob recommend adding four more offenses to the list. None is a violent crime, and three are new crimes that were enacted after information charging took effect.
Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow information charging in 2002 and again in 2004 because the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled the first vote invalid because the ratification process was flawed.
Carlisle was the most vocal proponent of information charging and the first to use it.
"We didn't start immediately using it," he said. "We waited until all the procedures were in place, and then we started doing it with sort of a trickle."
The other prosecutors started using the law later, after following procedures Carlisle established in Honolulu.