HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — The state Supreme Court on Thursday ended a murder case against a Kalihi man who killed a 16-year-old boy in 2019.
The decision could have wide ramifications for the state’s criminal justice system.
Richard Obrero claimed to have shot Starsky Willy in self-defense in November 2019 after Willy and a group of teenagers broke into his Kalihi home and fired BBs or airsoft guns at his home.
“He’s very relieved,” Obrero’s attorney Thomas Otake said. “Everyone, including the Obreros, wished this whole incident had not happened and could have been avoided. As tragic as it was, it was the result of him defending his home.
Prosecutors were unable to get an Oahu grand jury to indict Obrero, so they criminally charged him and asked a judge to uphold the murder charge.
In Thursday’s 3-2 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected that process and said all serious crimes should be indicted by a grand jury.
This is a major change in the criminal justice system.
“It helps control the immense power that we give to prosecutors,” Otake said.
With hundreds of defendants charged on complaint, some prosecutors believe many Class A and B felony cases will have to go to grand juries, causing chaos in the justice system.
“And the victims? What about our community, public safety concerns, all of those things have to be considered,” Big Island District Attorney Kelden Waltjen said.
Honolulu District Attorney Steve Alm said he was “disappointed” with the ruling, which creates “unwarranted restrictions.”
“(Today’s) ruling poses a threat to public safety by delaying the charging of violent and dangerous offenders,” Alm said.
He said Oahu grand juries now meet “only two days a week, instead of three times a week before the pandemic.” Alm said the number of grand juries has also been reduced.
“Here on the island of Hawaii, we are limited to grand jury proceedings twice a month in Hilo and once a month in Kona,” Waltjen added.
Defense attorney Myles Breiner said the ruling would force prosecutors to dismiss many of their cases or offer better plea deals in others.
“It could have a huge impact on our criminal justice system and a number of cases are going to be thrown out in the short term,” Breiner said.
Prosecutors said they plan to go to the state Legislature for a new law that clearly states they can use complaints to charge serious crimes.
But Obrero’s attorney said the criminal complaint process shouldn’t be used that way in the first place.
“To be clear, the blame for any temporary chaos created by this decision…should be placed on prosecutors for being wrong,” Otake said.
“Not on the Supreme Court to now make it right.”
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