Prosecutors begin new
The new process has a judge
determine if a case has merit
based on submitted filings
Honolulu prosecutors filed the first nine cases in District Court yesterday under a new system that lets them submit documents to a judge to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to send a case to trial.
"Information charging" was overwhelmingly approved by voters in last November's election as a third method of filing charges.
Previously, prosecutors could bring charges by presenting a case to a grand jury or to a judge at a preliminary hearing to determine probable cause.
With the new method, the charging documents -- referred to as an "information" -- are submitted for review by a district judge and include declarations by the investigating officer, pertinent police reports and witness statements. If a defendant challenges the validity of the charge, he can request a hearing.
One of the cases yesterday involves an alleged auto theft in January. A man had lent his daughter his car, which was later stolen from a municipal parking garage.
Had the case gone through a preliminary hearing, up to seven people would have been required to testify by the prosecution in District Court, Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said.
Of the nine cases filed yesterday, 21 officers and 4 other police personnel would be required to go to court and wait to testify at a preliminary hearing or grand jury about what they already put into their reports, he said.
Also, 16 civilian witnesses won't have to take time off from work, arrange for child care and transportation to come to court and repeat statements they already gave to police, he said.
Defense attorneys who opposed information charging had argued that it erodes a defendant's right to due process, including a right to confront witnesses and the requirement that prosecutors establish probable cause.
Carlisle said that cases must still be supported by sufficient evidence.
He estimates that after a year, at least 72 percent of all cases his office charges will be via information charging. It will be used mostly for cases such as auto thefts, car break-ins, shoplifting, drug offenses and some ID theft cases where the defendant is not in custody.
Information charging will not apply to more serious crimes such as murders, robberies, most sexual assaults, kidnapping and domestic violence cases, he said.