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CRIMINAL LAW 14: The district court’s decision to bindover the Defendant was not an abuse of discretion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On the evening of November 2, 2012, two men left work and were accosted by two unidentified men who came from behind an adjacent building who demanded money.  One of the men brandished a firearm.  When the victims attempted to drive way, the defendant hit the front passenger side of the vehicle near the vehicle’s hood and front light with his hand and demanded that the victim stop, but he ddn’t and the victims got away and the defendant ran away.

At the scene, police officers collected DNA from blood on the side of the victim’s car, which was later analyzed and then compared to a buccal swab of the defendant’s many years later.  The crime lab DNA comparison analysis report indicated that the DNA from the blood at the scene so closely matched the DNA from defendant’s buccal swab that a 1 in 1.57 trillion chance existed that the crime scene blood was not from defendant.  The prosecution charged defendant with two counts each of armed robbery and felony-firearm. After hearing the DNA evidence, the district court found probable cause to bind over defendant on the charges.

Defendant moved in the trial court to quash the information, arguing that the prosecution failed to provide sufficient evidence at the preliminary examination to support a finding of probable cause that defendant had committed the alleged crimes.  In support of his motion, defendant argued that the DNA evidence alone failed to place him at the crime scene when the alleged crimes took place, and that the prosecution failed to establish sufficient facts to support the inference that defendant had been one of the two men involved in the incident.  The trial court agreed and dismissed the charges without prejudice.  The prosecution now appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review a district court’s bindover decision for an abuse of discretion.  This Court therefore essentially sits in the same position as the circuit court when determining whether the district court abused its discretion.  In simple terms, we review the district court’s original exercise of discretion.

ANALYSIS

At a preliminary examination, the prosecution must present evidence establishing that the defendant committed the charged offense, and the district court must find that probable cause exists to bind over a defendant for trial.  To satisfy this burden, the prosecution must present evidence of each and every element of the charged offense, or enough evidence from which an element may be inferred.  Identity is an essential element of every crime.  Accordingly, to warrant a bindover, the prosecution must produce evidence that a crime was committed and that probable cause exists to believe that the charged defendant committed it.

Probable cause is established if the evidence would persuade a careful and reasonable person to believe in the defendant’s guilt.   The evidence supporting a determination of probable cause “may be circumstantial, but must nevertheless demonstrate reasonable grounds to suspect the defendant’s personal guilt.  This standard requires evidence of each element of the crime charged or evidence from which the elements may be inferred.  In determining whether the prosecution has met this burden, we “review the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution . . . .” 

In this case, the record reflects that the district court provided an extensive summary of the evidence presented at the preliminary examination and explained its reasoning concerning why probable cause existed to bind over defendant.  That some of the evidence may not perfectly align remained for resolution by the triers of fact at trial.  Indeed, even if the district court determined that contradictory evidence raised questions concerning defendant’s guilt, the district court was obligated to bind over defendant.

Having reviewed the evidence presented at the preliminary examination in a light most favorable to the prosecution, the district court’s decision to bind over defendant did not fall outside of the range of principled outcomes, and therefore, did not amount to an abuse of discretion.  As a result, the trial court erred by granting defendant’s motion, quashing the information, and dismissing the criminal charges against defendant.  We reverse the circuit court’s order dismissing the case and remand for the circuit court to reinstate the charges against defendant and for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

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