HONOLULU (KHON2) — Suspected violent offenders whose charges have been dismissed can remain behind bars while re-charging is worked out, according to a Hawaii Supreme Court opinion handed down today.

The state’s highest court said those holds can only be for a reasonable time period and it remains to be seen how it will impact dozens of other cases in limbo.

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Prosecutors statewide are scrambling to charge suspects of violent crimes in the wake of a separate Hawaii Supreme Court ruling known as Obrero that required grand jury indictments in hundreds of high-profile felony cases in which they were charged by complaint and preliminary hearing instead.

Today’s supreme court ruling comes after a challenge on behalf of Scott Deangelo who was arrested after a dead body was found in a Pearl City apartment fire in February. charges were dropped on Obrero grounds but a lower court let prosecutors use a rule called “12g” that allows keeping defendants in jail without charges for as many as 90 days while grand jury indictments are sought. Today the supreme court weighed in on the hold rule.

“I think the clear message is, don’t play games with this rule. It does not give you a stay in jail forever pass,” explained Steven Levinson, a retired Hawaii Supreme Court associate justice. “And it’s got to be a reasonable time, and the shorter the better, basically, is what they said.”

Before rendering their decision, the justices studied other jurisdictions nationwide with similar rules and found time limit ranging from one day to 60 days. They stopped short of defining reasonable time for Hawaii cases.

“They ruled that they didn’t have to decide exactly how many days was the maximum that could be specified,” Levinson explained. “They said, we can’t imagine that it could be longer than 60.”

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm told KHON2 there are 92 defendants that are still being held in custody out of the 174 Oahu cases dismissed under Obrero.

“I’m very happy with the supreme court’s ruling in this matter, because it balances the accused rights with public safety,” Alm said.

Deangelo was subsequently charged again by indictment and remains in custody.

Public Defender John Ikenaga, who filed the petition on Deangelo’s behalf, told KHON2:
“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court believes it is constitutional to incarcerate a person who has not been charged or convicted. The vast majority of recent case dismissals have been due to the prosecutor disregarding statutory and caselaw requirements in charging. Holding our clients in custody due to the prosecutor’s errors is unfair and unjust.”

KHON2 asked: Does this have broad implications for others who are being similarly held under the rule?

“Yes,” Levinson explained. “Then the question is going to become, well, was what they did to me reasonable? Was the time limit they gave the prosecution to go out and get an indictment reasonable under in my case?”

“We’re going to deal with this, and 60 days will give us a decent shot at trying to get the case in front of the grand jury,” Alm said.

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“We did get good news from the judiciary recently, that they have found put together another grand jury panel. So we will have another session every other Tuesday morning to present more cases,” Alm said. “The four part day-sessions we have now are pretty much filled up with current crimes, but we are scheduling some of the Obrero cases then, too, and hopefully things go quickly.”