Justia Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

by
In this criminal case, the Supreme Court vacated the sentence set forth in the circuit court judgment and affirmed by the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) and otherwise affirmed the lower courts' judgments, holding that the State violated Defendant's due process rights. Defendant was convicted of four offenses. The ICA vacated three of the convictions. On remand, the State was given the option of either retrying Defendant on the charges underlying three convictions vacated by the appellate court or dismissing two of those charges and having the trial court reinstate the conviction on the remaining charge. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the three counts, arguing that Hawai'i Rules of Penal Procedure (HRPP) Rule 48 (b)(3) had been violated. The circuit court denied the motion. The State failed to disclose which two of the three charges would be dismissed before Defendant exercised the right of allocution at sentencing. Defendant was subsequently resentenced. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the sentence, holding ((1) the ICA correctly concluded that the circuit court did not err by denying Defendant's motion to dismiss for violation of Rule 48(b)(3); but (2) Defendant's right of allocution was violated by the court’s failure to require timely disclosure of the offense for which Defendant would be sentenced. View "State v. Carlton" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's convictions of murder in the second degree, carrying or use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony, ownership or possession prohibited of any firearm, and place to keep loaded firearms other than pistols and revolvers, holding that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence five instances of prior abuse committed by Defendant and erred by not submitting a merger instruction to the jury. Defendant was convicted of fatally shooting his longtime girlfriend. On appeal, Defendant argued that the circuit court erred by admitting into evidence five instance of prior abuse that were not shown to be followed by a period of separation between Defendant and the decedent. The Supreme Court vacated the convictions, holding (1) the prior bad acts were inadmissible to rebut Defendant's extreme mental and emotional distress defense, the circuit court erred in admitting the prior incidents of misconduct and the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and the jury was improperly instructed on the use of the prior bad acts; and (2) the circuit court's failure to submit a merger instruction constituted plain error and was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Lavoie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
he Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) reversing the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment to Defendant in this dram shop action, holding that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the decedent's contributory negligence exceeded the negligence of Defendant. Plaintiffs asserted a dram shop claim on behalf of their son, who died while riding as a passenger in a vehicle driven by their son's intoxicated cousin, against Defendant, who served the decedent and his cousin alcohol. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Defendant, concluding that because the decedent was also intoxicated at the time of the accident he was not an "innocent third party" with standing to bring a dram shop claim. The ICA reversed, concluding that genuine issues of material fact existed as to the complicity defense and whether the decedent fell within the protected class of innocent third parties entitled to bring a dram shop cause of action. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the complicity defense is inconsistent with application of the contributory negligence defense; and (2) there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the decedent engaged in conduct that was more negligent than that of Defendant's. View "Kuahiwinui v. Zelo’s Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
by
The Supreme Court held in this case that the governor was permitted to make an interim appointment when the term of an official who is statutorily permitted to holdover expires and the senate is not in session. Michael Champley's term as commissioner of the Hawai'i Public Utilities Commission was set to expire on June 30, 2016. The 2016 legislative session ended on May 5, 2016 without the governor submitting a nomination for a new commission to replace Champley. On June 28, 2016, Champley stated that he intended to continue to serve as "holdover" commissioner until his successor was appointed and confirmed by the senate. The next day, however, the governor announced that he intended to exercise his constitutional authority to temporarily fill the vacancy to appoint Thomas Goran to replace Champley following the expiration of Champley's term. Plaintiff filed a complaint and quo warranty petition against Gorak and the State, alleging that no vacancy existed, and therefore, the interim appointment power of the governor was not implicated. The circuit court granted Gorak's motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a vacancy existed upon the expiration of Champley's term as commissioner, and therefore, the governor was entitled to appoint Goran on an interim basis. View "Morita v. Gorak" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law
by
The Supreme Court answered three modified questions certified to it by the United States District Court for the District of Hawai'i in a federal court lawsuit where a grantor asserted that an escrow company's alleged deletion of an easement from the property description attached to a deed he executed rendered the deed a forged deed that was void ab initio and the escrow company and grantee asserted that the grantor's claim sounded in fraud and was barred by a statute of limitations. The Supreme Court held (1) a deed is void ab initio for fraud such that a claim challenging the validity of the deed is not subject to a statute of limitations under certain circumstances; (2) the six-year "catch-all" statute of limitations under Haw. Rev. Stat. 647-1(4) applies to a claim that a deed was procured by fraud of the type that does not render it void ab initio, such as fraud in the inducement and constructive fraud; and (3) the statute of limitations begins to run on a grantor's claim that a deed was procured by fraud of the type that does not render it void ab initio when the grantor discovers or should have discovered the existence of the claim or the person liable for the claim. View "Hancock v. Kulana Partners, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) determining that the State's complaint was sufficient and sustaining that the State's "golden rule" objection, holding that the complaint was defective and that the "golden rule" argument did not apply. Defendant was convicted of obstructing. The ICA vacated the conviction and remanded for a new trial, holding that there was an error in the jury instructions. On certiorari, Defendant asked the Supreme Court to determine whether the ICA erred in determining that the State's complaint was sufficient despite its failure to define the statutory term "obstructs" and whether the ICA erred in analyzing a golden rule objection made by the State during Defendant's closing argument. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the circuit court to dismiss the obstructing charge, holding (1) by omitting an essential element of the offense of obstructing, the complaint was insufficient; and (2) while the ICA correctly concluded that the circuit court erred in sustaining the State's objection to defense counsel's closing argument, it incorrectly analyzed whether that error was harmless. View "State v. Kauhane" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
In this case involving $537,000 in excess foreclosure sale proceeds the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate appellate court (ICA) and the circuit court's final judgment in favor of Respondents, holding that the circuit court's determination that Petitioners could have reasonably known of certain transfers and their fraudulent nature on or before February 21, 2005 contravened this Court's ruling in Schmidt II. Petitioners obtained a final judgment for the excess proceeds but later learned that those same proceeds were already transferred. Petitioners then brought a complaint alleging that the proceeds were fraudulently transferred. The circuit court entered judgment in favor of Respondents. The ICA concluded that Petitioners' claim under Hawai'i Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (HUFTA), Haw. Rev. Stat. Chapter 651 C, should have been dismissed as untimely. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding that the ICA incorrectly held that the statute of limitations ran from the date of the transfer rather than from the date that Petitioners discovered the fraudulent nature of the transfer. On remand, the circuit court concluded that Petitioners' claims were time barred. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statute of limitations for Petitioners' HUFTA claim did not begin until July 26, 2005, and therefore, Petitioners timely raised their claims. View "Schmidt v. HSC, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the circuit court's order denying Petitioner's petition to vacate, set aside, or correct judgment or to release Petitioner from custody, holding that Petitioner's Haw. R. Pen. P. 40 petition stated a colorable claim that the Hawai'i Paroling Authority (HPA) violated his due process rights. Petitioner pleaded guilty to manslaughter and firearms offenses. In his Rule 40 petition, Petitioner argued that the HPA arbitrarily and capriciously determined that he was a Level III offender for purposes of calculating his minimum term of imprisonment on his manslaughter conviction. The circuit court denied the petition without holding a hearing. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment in part and remanded the case, holding (1) Petitioner raised a colorable claim that the HPA arbitrarily and capriciously maintained Petitioner's level of punishment at Level III on the manslaughter conviction; and (2) Petitioner raised a colorable claim that the circuit court provided inadequate reasons for imposing consecutive sentences. View "Lewi v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
by
The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the trial court erred in determining that Defendant's confession was voluntarily made despite an interrogating officer informing him, untruthfully, that he did not pass a polygraph test, holding the deliberate falsehood regarding the polygraph results impermissibly tainted Defendant's confession. The trial court admitted Defendant's confession into evidence over defense objection. The court further ruled that during Defendant's trial testimony, when discussing the circumstances of his confession, could not mention the words "polygraph" or "test" or that the interrogating officer gave him inaccurate test results before his confession was elicited. The Supreme Court vacated the conviction, holding (1) the admission of Defendant's confession was not harmless error; (2) the exclusion of evidence of the circumstances surrounding the eliciting of Defendant's confession severely compromised Defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial and to present a complete defense; and (3) the court's jury instruction that defined an element of the charged offense contained a misstatement of law and was ambiguous and incomplete. View "State v. Matsumoto" on Justia Law

by
In this appeal arising from a 2014 petition by the Bank of Hawai'i (BOH) to resign as trustee for a trust comprised of several parcels of land underlying the Discovery Bay condominium complex in Waikiki, the Supreme Court vacated in part and affirmed in part the intermediate court of appeals' (ICA) judgment on the appeal, holding that the ICA erred when it decided that Michael David Bruser and Lynn Bruser were liable for the trustee's fees. The Brusers, who held the leasehold commercial unit in the condominium, and several trust beneficiaries objected to BOH's petition to resign as trustee. The probate court permitted BOH to reform the trust agreement and determined that a $9,850 monthly trustee's fee was reasonable. The ICA determined that the Brusers were responsible for paying the trustee's fees and that the monthly trustee's fee was reasonable. The Supreme Court held (1) the ICA erred in concluding that the Brusers were liable for the trustee's fees when the probate court did not address the issue; and (2) the ICA properly affirmed the probate court's conclusion that a $9,850 monthly trustee's fee was reasonable. View "In re Trust Agreement dated June 6, 1974" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates