Justia Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) on appeal and vacated the circuit court's order denying Appellant's oral motion to withdraw pleas in his global plea agreement to two criminal offenses, one charged in the family court and the other charged in the circuit court, holding that the circuit court should have allowed Appellant to withdraw both of his pleas. The criminal offense Appellant was charged with in the family court was legally impossible for him to have committed under the law in effect at the time of his plea. The circuit court denied Appellant's motion to withdraw his pleas in both cases and entered a sentence pursuant to the plea agreement. The ICA concluded that the circuit court should not have accepted Appellant's guilty plea to the charge in the family court case but found that Appellant's plea in the circuit court case was an otherwise valid plea. The Supreme Court held that because both of Appellant's pleas were encompassed in the global plea agreement and because the ICA correctly concluded that Appellant was entitled to withdraw his plea in the family court case, the ICA should have also held that Appellant was permitted to withdraw his plea in the circuit court case. View "State v. Guity" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals and vacated Defendant's conviction of promoting a dangerous drug in the third degree and unlawful use of drug paraphernalia, holding that Defendant's motion to suppress should have been granted because he was seized longer than was necessary for the police to conduct an investigation confirming the absence of a required tax decal. The pat-down of Defendant occurred after a police officer noticed Defendant riding a bicycle lacking a tax decal, which is required by law on all bicycles with wheels twenty inches or more in diameter. After the time necessary for the police to conduct the investigation confirming the officer's reasonable suspicion that the tax decal was missing and to issue a citation for the missing decal, a warrant check came back from dispatch indicating that Defendant had an outstanding warrant. Defendant was arrested based on the outstanding warrant, and a search incident to arrest revealed drugs and drug paraphernalia. The Supreme Court held (1) Defendant's arrest was illegal because the warrant check came back after the span of time necessary for the police to write and issue the citation; and (2) therefore, the evidence obtained as a result of the arrest was fruit of the poisonous tree. View "State v. Iona" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the judgment of the district court that Defendant violated Haw. Rev. Stat. 286-102(b) by operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver's license, holding that because Defendant failed to meet her burden to produce "some evidence" to support an exemption from the requirement to operate a motor vehicle with a valid Hawai'i driver's license, as set forth in Haw. Rev. Stat. 286-105, the burden did not shift to the State. Defendant argued on appeal that the State bore the burden to prove that Defendant did not possess a valid driver's license issued by Canada or a valid commercial driver's license issued by Canada or Mexico, which would have exempted her from the requirement to operate a motor vehicle with a valid Hawai'i driver's license. The ICA disagreed and affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant bore the burden to produce evidence that she possessed a valid driver’s license in Canada or a valid commercial driver’s license in Canada or Mexico before the burden shifted to the State to prove that she did not have a driver’s license that qualified as an exemption. View "State v. Castillon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) on appeal and the circuit court's order granting summary judgment against Plaintiff on the basis of his failure to timely respond to Defendant's request for admissions, holding that the trial court abused its discretion by denying withdrawal of Plaintiff's admissions and, absent the admissions, there were genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment against Plaintiff. Plaintiff's claims were dismissed based on his alleged failure timely to respond to a request for admissions, even where he had requested that the trial court provide him with an interpreter to help answer the requests. Plaintiff was denied the opportunity to exercise his right to a jury trial on the basis of his alleged failure to respond to a request for admissions that asked him to concede he had no claim. The ICA affirmed. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that his request for an interpreter should have been construed as a request to withdraw the admissions and file a late response. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that Plaintiff's request to obtain an interpreter should have been considered a motion to withdraw his admissions and continue the hearing on the motion for summary judgment. View "Villaver v. Sylva" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's convictions and remanded this case to the circuit court for further proceedings, holding that multiple instances of improper prosecutorial conduct cumulatively jeopardized Defendant's right to a fair trial. Defendant was convicted of murder in the second degree and carrying or use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. Defendant appealed, arguing, among other things, that the circuit court erred in denying his motions for mistrial and motion for a new trial due to prosecutorial misconduct. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the cumulative effect of the prosecutor's improper conduct was so prejudicial as to jeopardize Defendant's right a fair trial. View "State v. Pasene" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the district court's judgment finding Defendant guilty of obstructing a highway or public passage after Defendant appeared pro se before the court, holding that the record on appeal did not indicate a valid waiver of counsel. At Defendant's plea hearing Defendant signed a form waiving his right to counsel. The court engaged in a colloquy with Defendant. Thereafter, the district court found Defendant guilty as charged. The ICA affirmed the district court's judgment. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment on appeal and the district court's judgment, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Defendant did not provide an intelligent and knowing waiver of his right to counsel. View "State v. Fujiyoshi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions, holding that trial courts must engage the defendant in an on-the-record colloquy regarding the right to testify and right not to testify when either right is waived, effectively making such a colloquy necessary in every trial. The Court further held that this requirement will be effective in trials beginning after the filing date of this opinion. Before this opinion, court procedures required that a trial court engage a defendant in an on-the-record colloquy only when the defendant waived the right to testify but not when the defendant waived the reciprocal right not to testify. Defendant in this case argued that the circuit court erred by failing to advise him of his right not to testify before trial. The intermediate court of appeals concluded that Defendant was not prejudiced by the lack of a pretrial advisement. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant voluntarily waived the right to a jury trial; (2) the circuit court erred by failing to give a pretrial advisement, but the lack of a pretrial advisement was harmless error; and (3) prospectively, a colloquy pursuant to Tachibana v. State, 900 P.2d 1293, 1304 (Haw. 1995), must be given in all trials. View "State v. Torres" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In this criminal case, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) rejecting the State's confession of error that insufficient foundation was laid for the admission into evidence of the results of a field sobriety test known as the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, holding that the admission of the HGN evidence did not rise to plain error. The confession of error also conceded that, absent the results of the HGN test, insufficient evidence supported Defendant's conviction of operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant. The ICA rejected the confession of error based on its erroneous conclusion that the failure of Defendant's trial counsel to object to the admission of the results of the HGN test automatically disqualified it from appellate consideration as plain error. The Supreme Court affirmed on other grounds, holding that the ICA failed to apply the property standard in determining whether the State's confession of error should be accepted, holding that, in light of the evidentiary record, the admission into evidence of the HGN test results was not plain error. View "State v. Arkin " on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) reinstating certain criminal charges dismissed by the circuit court based on the statute of limitations, holding that there were questions of fact regarding the statute of limitations applicable to those counts that must be determined by the factfinder, and therefore, the circuit court erred by dismissing those charges. The circuit court dismissed all six counts of theft filed against Defendant on the grounds that the felony information was filed after any extension of the three-year statute of limitations based on Haw. Rev. Stat. 701-108(3)(a) had expired. The ICA reinstated three of those counts. The Supreme Court affirmed as further clarified by this opinion, holding (1) the ICA did not err in holding that prosecutorial discretion allowed the three counts to be charged as separate offenses, and there were questions of fact regarding the statute of limitations applicable thereto; and (2) the ICA erred in holding that the earliest date of discovery for the three counts was September 5, 2013. View "State v. Pitolo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the courts below denying Petitioner’s petition filed pursuant to Hawaii Rules of Penal Procedure (HRPP) Rule 40 to vacate, set aside, or correct his 1987 conviction for driving while under the influence of an intoxicating liquor (DUI), holding that Petitioner’s right to counsel was violated back in 1987 and that the equitable doctrine of laches does not apply to HRPP Rule 40 petitions. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed the district court’s decision to deny Petitioner’s Rule 40 petition based on the equitable doctrine of laches, noting that Petitioner had waited more than twenty-five years to challenge his DUI conviction and that no transcripts of any of the proceedings in Petitioner’s DUI case were available. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment on appeal, Petitioner’s 1987 conviction for DUI, and the district court’s order, holding (1) Petitioner was erroneously deprived of the right to counsel in 1987; and (2) the doctrine of laches does not apply in the context of HRPP Rule 40 petitions. View "Akau v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law