HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — A Hawaii Supreme Court ruling puts detainees in a limbo — being held behind bars even though their charges are no longer valid.
In Oahu alone, prosecutors have identified 160 people charged with serious crimes through criminal complaints whose cases must now go to a grand jury for an indictment.
“This must be a nightmare for everyone involved, the prosecutors, the courts, the police, the witnesses, I mean, it’s next to impossible,” said former Honolulu Deputy Chief of Police John McCarthy.
Last week the High Court ruled that the murder case against Kalihi resident Richard Obrero was “unlawful” because he had not been indicted by a grand jury.
Honolulu prosecutors had charged Obrero by criminal complaint with killing 16-year-old Starsky Willy after Willy and a group of teenagers broke into Obrero’s house. An Oahu grand jury previously declined to indict Obrero.
Many of the 160 cases currently in limbo involve violent crimes, and prosecutors have said delays in indicting suspects by a grand jury could jeopardize public safety.
They are asking the state legislature to pass a new law to preserve their power to use the criminal complaint process.
“Public safety is paramount,” House Speaker Scott Saiki said. “The Supreme Court made this decision. And so it’s now up to the judiciary to expedite grand jury proceedings in Hawaii. The judiciary must help resolve this situation.
Court officials said they plan to increase the number of grand juries on Oahu and nearby islands by about 35% starting this month. But some prosecutors say that’s still not enough.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys have said that when they call to have their clients’ cases thrown out, they are blocked by the courts.
“Unfortunately, the courts are fixing these cases in two or three months,” said attorney Myles Breiner. “I would say that falls under illegal detention.”
Breiner said he represents a dozen people affected by the decision who are still locked up.
He said those clients should be freed — at least until a grand jury hears their case.
“It’s deeply disturbing because it seems – you know, for lack of a better description – that the court went to bed with the prosecutor’s office and said we have this disaster and we don’t want release these individuals,” he said.
Attorney Eric Seitz thinks prosecutors should have known better and should have used the grand jury process in the first place.
“I understand they’re dealing with a clamor from people that there’s been an increase in crime and we need to crack down on that,” Seitz said.
“But putting people in jail for long periods of time and cutting the process short is not the way to solve this problem.”
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