HONOLULU (KHON2) — The reaction was swift from prosecutors who disagree with Senate President Ronald Kouchi’s announcement that a special legislative session is unlikely following the recent State v. Obrero Hawaii Supreme Court Ruling.
“Make no mistake about it, this ruling puts the public at risk,” said Honolulu Prosecutor Steve Alm shortly after a judge dismissed the case against Richard Obrero on Sept. 8.
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Obrero was accused of shooting 16-year-old Starsky Willy in self-defense after Willy and several other teens shot BB guns and broke into Obrero’s home in November 2019.
Attorney Megan Kau said this puts prosecutors in a tough spot, they are having to seek indictments from grand juries on felony charges that were previously filed through a preliminary hearing or a complaint.
Kau said, “County prosecutors’ office is scrambling to hold grand juries. For all of the felony cases that have been charged via complaint and preliminary hearing.”
According to Alm: “The Hawaii Supreme Court in Obrero ruled that this method, complaint and preliminary hearing, is now unlawful because of an obsolete 1905 statute that was overlooked when the constitution was amended 40 years ago. My office has over 160 cases that were charged under the complaint and preliminary hearing process and approved by judges for trial. This includes 25 murders, attempted murders, and manslaughters, over 40 robberies, and many other serious crimes such as arson, kidnapping, and sexual assault. Defense counsel, who have long lauded the virtues of the preliminary hearing process, are now using the Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision to try to free their clients from jail.”
The prosecuting attorney said they’ll do everything they can to keep defendants in jail while they seek grand jury indictments.
On Friday, Kouchi released the following statement.
“The Senate has been working diligently to address the concerns of county prosecutors regarding the potential impacts raised by the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court’s opinion in State v. Obrero.
While we’ve attempted to work with the House, the Judiciary and the county prosecutors to find a way forward, we’ve received no indication from the House, following their caucus yesterday, that their chamber has the 2/3 majority needed to convene a special session.
Furthermore, with the Governor’s recent statement on Wednesday saying that he will not call the Legislature back to address this issue, it does not seem that a special legislative session will occur at this time.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Karl Rhoads said rushing into a special legislative session is not necessary for now, he said his staff continues to work on a bill for members of the Senate and the House to consider.
House Speaker, Scott Saiki, offered his own statement Friday afternoon stating that they were in the process of polling House members. Saiki’s full statement is below.
“The House Democratic Caucus met yesterday to discuss a special session. If the Governor does not call the Legislature back into special session, the Legislature will be required to call itself in with the support of 2/3 of the members in each body. We are currently polling House members and are awaiting word whether the Senate has the requisite support since the Senate would also be required to vote on judicial nominations and the Governor’s interim appointments to boards and commissions.”
Rhoads said, “There is a way to charge them already, and so I think the risk of public safety is actually quite minimal assuming that the judiciary does what they need to do and assuming that the prosecutors do what they need to do.”
Kouchi said the decision not to hold a special session comes in part because the House was unable to gather the two-thirds majority needed to call the lawmakers back into the Capitol.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Scott Saiki said that announcement was made prematurely. He will continue counting votes into the weekend.
Rhoads said a special legislative session is not off the table.
He said, “Right before I talked to you I talked to my staff and said keeping working on the bill we might still be going into a special session.”
For now, prosecutors who are seeking indictments from grand juries are likely to see further case back-ups in court.
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Kau said, “It could create a backlog for each of the divisions because, you know, especially in light of COVID, we only have a certain amount of days that we hold grand juries. And so now, each of the prosecutor’s offices are going to have to prioritize going forward.”