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State v. Clark

    Brief Fact Summary. In two separate prosecutions, Smith and Clark were charged with forgery. In each case, the charges were based on allegations that the defendants attempted to cash a stolen check and, after the bank didn’t comply, each left the bank. In each case, the magistrate found cause and bound the defendants for trial. The district court quashed the bindovers stating that the state failed to meet its evidentiary burden, and the state brought appeal.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. If a prosecutor can show a reasonable belief that a defendant committed a crime, that is sufficient for cause to bind a defendant for trial.

    Facts. This is the consolidation of two separate prosecutions:
    In State v. Smith, Michelle Waldie found that a book of checks had been stolen from her car and notified the police. Later that day, Respondent drove up to the bank’s drive through and attempted to cash one of the checks. Because he didn’t have an account, he was told he’d have to go inside the bank to cash the check. At that time, Smith went in, presented identification, and attempted to cash the check. The teller found that the check had been stolen and called the police. After about five minutes, Smith asked what the problem was, was told that she was trying to get approval for the check, and he left the bank, leaving the check behind. Smith was arrested and, at a probable cause hearing, wherein the victim testified, the magistrate bound Smith for trial. Smith filed a Motion to Quash on the premise that the evidence did not prove his intent to commit forgery, and the district court agreed, concluding that smith had failed to demonstrate probable cause.

    In State v. Clark, almost the same fact pattern occurred. The victim realized her checks were missing, she informed the bank and had a hold placed on her account. Clark attempted to cash one of the checks, and left the bank when he realized that the bank suspected him. Clark was then arrested, bound by a magistrate, and raised the same issue to quash the bindover and dismiss the charges against him.

    Issue. Whether the district court judges erred in quashing the magistrates’ findings that probable cause to bind Smith and Clark existed.

    Held. Reversed. In its holding, the Court found that holding a magistrate to a higher probable cause standard, such as that needed for directed verdict, was too much. Instead, in the standard for probable cause at both the arrest warrant and preliminary hearing stages should imbue the prosecution with the burden of presenting sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that an offense has been committed and that the defendant committed it.

    Discussion. This case stands for the notion that a magistrate should not be held to a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in determination of bindover decisions, but rather a “reasonable belief” standard is sufficient to hold a defendant for trial.


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