Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming judgment in favor of Defendants, holding that Plaintiff was subjected to unlawful pretrial punishment when he was held in solitary confinement by State of Hawai’i prison officials for more than nine months following his arrest, in violation of his constitutional due process rights, but defendant Petra Cho was entitled to qualified immunity under federal and state qualified immunity principles for her part in Defendant’s confinement. Plaintiff requested monetary damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state tort law. The circuit court entered judgment in favor of the State and Cho. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff’s placement in solitary confinement for more than nine months constituted unlawful pretrial punishment; (2) while the circuit court applied an incorrect standard for federal qualified immunity, Cho was not liable for damages for the federal constitutional violation; (3) the circuit court did not err by concluding that Cho had no negligence liability based on state qualified immunity principles; and (4) the State was not liable for damages for the state constitutional violation. View "Gordon v. Maesaka-Hirata" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) vacating the district court’s order dismissing with prejudice Petitioners’ charges of one count of prostitution under Haw. Rev. Stat. 712-1200(1)(b) based on State v. Modica, 567 P.2d 420 (1977), holding that the ICA erred in determining that Petitioners’ due process and equal protection rights had not been violated. In their motions to dismiss, Petitioners argued that sections 712-1200(1)(a) and (1)(b) prohibited the same conduct but that subsection (1)(b) barred a harsher penalty and that, pursuant to Modica, where two crimes prohibit the same conduct, to convict them of the crime carrying the harsher penalty would violate their due process and equal protection rights. The district court agreed and dismissed the charges. The ICA disagreed, concluding that subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) prohibited different conduct, and therefore, the district court erred in finding a Modica violation. The Supreme Court disagreed with the ICA and remanded these cases for further proceedings, holding that, based on the plain language of sections 712-1200(1)(a) and (1)(b), as they existed at the time Petitioners were charged, Petitioners’ charges violated the Modica rule. View "State v. Sasai" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacate the circuit court’s order denying Petitioner’s petition for postconviction relief, holding that credible testimony during Petitioner’s postconviction hearing clearly indicated that an arrangement existed in which a codefendant expected to benefit from his testimony and that the nondisclosure of this arrangement deprived Petitioner of a fair trial with respect to several of his convictions. Petitioner was convicted of several crimes based in part on the codefendant’s testimony, who chose to testify for the State following an improper ex parte meeting between the prosecutor, judge, and codefendant’s counsel. Petitioner filed a petition for postconviction relief asserting that an undisclosed, unwritten agreement existed between the prosecutor and the codefendant under which the codefendant was promise a favorable recommendation at sentencing in exchange for his “truthful” testimony. The circuit court denied postconviction relief. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s order, as well as those convictions and sentences that may have reasonably been affected by the improper nondisclosure, holding that Petitioner’s right of a fair trial was violated by the nondisclosure. View "Birano v. State" on Justia Law

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In this constitutional speedy trial challenge, the Supreme Court remanded the case for dismissal with or without prejudice as the trial court determines to be appropriate under the court rules and set forth applicable legal principles to assist the trial court in its evaluation of Defendant’s speedy trial challenge if the dismissal is determined to be without prejudice. After Defendant’s initial court appearance, the State was not prepared to proceed with a prosecution. Seven months later, Defendant was indicted for the crime for which he had been arrested. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the State’s delay in bringing the prosecution. The Supreme Court held (1) because no written order or notice was filed effectively discharging Defendant’s bail, Defendant remained held to answer for the crime underlying his arrest, and therefore, the case must be dismissed under court rules; and (2) the Intermediate Court of Appeals erred by considering the legal merits of Defendant’s constitutional speedy trial claim because the trial court failed to make the factual findings necessary for review. View "State v. Visintin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated in part the circuit court’s judgment, guilty conviction, and sentence, holding that Defendant’s extended sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole violated the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution and Haw. Rev. Stat. 1-3. After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of murder in the second degree. Defendant was sentenced to an extended sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 706-661 and 706-662(5). On appeal, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the State and its witnesses to refer to Edith Skinner as the “victim” at trial; (2) the circuit court did not err in excluding certain statements as hearsay; (3) the circuit court did not err by refusing Defendant’s proposed jury instructions for lesser included offenses; (4) the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion for a new trial on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct; and (5) Defendant’s sentence was an unconstitutional ex post facto application of the law because section 706-661 did not provide for a life sentence without the possibility of parole in 1989, when the offense in this case took place. View "State v. Austin " on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant’s convictions for unlawful imprisonment in the second degree and abuse of family or household members, holding that the prosecutor’s statements during closing argument amounted to an unwarranted attack on the person character of defense counsel and, by extension, Defendant, and the misconduct warranted vacating Defendant’s convictions. At issue on appeal was the propriety of the prosecutor’s remarks suggesting that opposing counsel attempted to induce the complaining witness to give false testimony during cross-examination. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed the judgment, holding that there was no reasonable possibility that the prosecutor’s comment contributed to Defendant’s convictions. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the nature of the prosecution’s remarks during closing argument, the lack of any effective curative instruction, and the relative weight of the evidence, considered collectively, made clear that there was a reasonable possibility that the error might have contributed to Defendant’s convictions; and (2) the improper remarks did not clearly deny Defendant a fair trial, and therefore, the protections of double jeopardy were not implicated. View "State v. Underwood" on Justia Law

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Hawaii’s use tax, Haw. Rev. Stat. 238-2, does not violate the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution notwithstanding that the 2004 amendment to the statute eliminated the application of the tax to in-state unlicensed sellers. CompUSA Stores, L.P. filed claims for refund of its 2006, 2007, and 2008 use tax payments. The Department of Taxation (Department) denied the request. CompUSA appealed, arguing that the tax discriminates against out-of-state commerce, cannot be justified by a legitimate local purpose, and thus violates the Commerce Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. The Tax Appeals Court granted the Department’s motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the current version of the use statute establishes a classification between in-state and out-of-state sellers; but (2) the statute satisfies rational basis review because the classification of out-of-state sellers bears a rational relationship to the legitimate state interest of leveling the economic playing field for local businesses subject to the general excise tax. View "CompUSA Stores, L.P. v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reiterated its holding in State v. Murray, 169 P.3d 955, 964 (2007), that a trial court must engage a defendant in an on-the-record colloquy to ensure the defendant is intelligently, knowingly, and voluntarily relinquishing the right to have all elements of a charged criminal offense proven beyond a reasonable doubt before the court may accept the defendant’s admission of an element of the crime. Further, the Court declined to establish an exception to the colloquy requirement when a stipulation is based on trial strategy or time constraints. Defendant was charged with operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant (OVUII). Defendant stipulated to the fact that her blood was drawn and that the blood test results showed a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.1056 grams of alcohol per hundred milliliters or cubic centimeters of blood. The district court found Defendant guilty of OVUII. The Supreme Court vacated Defendant’s OVUII conviction, holding that the district court plainly erred in failing to engage Defendant in an on-the-record colloquy regarding the stipulation to the blood test results, as required by Murray, and erred in accepting the stipulation as evidence proving that Defendant’s BAC was .08 or more grams of alcohol per one hundred milliliters or cubic centimeters of blood. View "State v. Ui" on Justia Law

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Haw. R. Civ. P. 56O(e) does not preclude an affidavit from being self-serving, nor does it require an affidavit to be corroborated by independent evidence. Further, an affidavit is conclusory if it expresses a conclusion without stating the underlying facts or reaches a conclusion that is not reasonably drawn from the underlying facts. In this case involving a claim brought by an employee against her former employer alleging that she was terminated on the basis of her gender, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer, holding that the circuit court (1) erred in rejecting the employee’s declarations as uncorroborated, self-serving, and conclusory; (2) erred in striking a declaration submitted by an employee in opposition that complied with the circuit court’s order allowing supplemental briefing; and (3) erred in granting summary judgment because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the employer’s proffered reasons for the employee’s termination were based on pretext. View "Nozawa v. Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant’s conviction for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant, holding that the record did not support a conclusion that Defendant’s waiver of the right to testify at trial was voluntarily, intelligently, and knowingly made, and the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed the conviction, concluding that the district court’s end-of-trial Tachibana colloquy was adequate and that Defendant’s waiver of the right to testify was validly made. The Supreme Court vacated the lower courts’ judgments and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings, holding (1) the Tachibana colloquy was deficient where the district court did not engage in a true colloquy with Defendant to ascertain her understanding of the stated constitutional principles and to ensure that Defendant’s decision not to testify was made with an understanding of these principles; and (2) the error was not harmless. View "State v. Celestine" on Justia Law