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Wednesday, January 3, 2001

Carlisle floats plan
to streamline justice,
cut costs

By Debra Barayuga

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle would like to explore amending the state Constitution to allow criminal charges to be filed directly with state judges.

That is less cumbersome than going through a preliminary hearing or grand jury hearing.

Eliminating that extra layer in the charging process would make the criminal justice system more efficient and would still protect the defendant's rights, Carlisle said.

Carlisle floated the idea as he began his second four-year term as city prosecutor.

He was sworn in at a ceremony yesterday in the courtyard of Alii Place. Also sworn in were his first deputy, Iwalani White, and 104 deputies.


Bullet Approximate cost of grand jurors in 1997-1998: $79,699

Bullet Indictments in Oahu Circuit Court for 1998-1999: 1,560

Bullet Preliminary hearings in Oahu Circuit Court for 1998-1999: 2,152

Bullet Honolulu police overtime for grand jury in 1999: $43,692

Bullet Witnesses called to testify at preliminary hearings in September 1999: 468 (or approximately 5,616 annually)

Bullet Witnesses called to testify before the grand jury in September 1999: 424 (or about 5,088 annually)

Source: City prosecutor's office

Hawaii is one of 12 states that require witnesses to testify at a preliminary hearing and grand jury, sometimes multiple times, Carlisle said. The reason is because in Hawaii, hearsay is not allowed at a grand jury or a preliminary hearing.

In 37 jurisdictions, formal charges can be brought with only one witness such as an investigating police officer or no witness at all.

Witnesses are only called when the defendant goes to trial, he said.

Doing away with the preliminary or grand jury hearings could save the city prosecutor's office about $500,000 a year, he said, not to mention savings by the public defender's office and the private sector.

The way the system works now, the accused must be charged formally in a grand jury indictment or a complaint after a preliminary hearing before he can be tried.

Rather than holding a preliminary hearings or presenting the cases to a grand jury, cases could be set for trial once the judge has reviewed the charging documents and is satisfied there is probable cause, Carlisle said.

Defendants would be allowed to challenge the judge's determination by a motion.

Public defender John "Jack" Tonaki understands the need to streamline the justice system but questioned whether turning a grand jury or preliminary hearing into an "examination of pieces of paper" is constitutional.

The preliminary hearing and grand jury operate as "protections" to the common citizen to avoid charges from being arbitrarily filed or avoid having a defendant stand trial for a crime when there really is no basis for it, Tonaki said.

At a preliminary hearing, defendants have a constitutional right to confront all witnesses.

"It would never work in a preliminary hearing to bring just police reports in and have a judge read them," Tonaki said.

While a defendant has no right to be present at a grand jury hearing, grand jurors can question witnesses to seek more information or examine their credibility -- another protection for the defendant, he said.

A good example of the protection provided by holding a preliminary hearing or grand jury hearing is a state judge's dismissal last year of criminal charges against former Bishop Estate trustees Richard Wong and Henry Peters because of improper testimony, presented before a grand jury, he said.

"If those hearings were turned into just paper formalities, I don't know if those type of abuses would have been discovered," Tonaki said.

Michael Broderick, administrative director of the courts, said the courts will study Carlisle's proposal carefully.

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