Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Hawaii

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the Intermediate Court of Appeals and circuit court finding that Defendant was the first aggressor in a late-night confrontation and the subsequent denial of Defendant’s request to introduce evidence of the victim’s prior violent acts under Haw. R. Evid. 404 and 405 to show his violent or aggressive character. The Court (1) because a victim’s violent or aggressive behavior is an essential element of a self-defense claim for purposes of determining admissibility under Rule 405, specific instances of conduct, such as a victim’s prior violent acts, can be used as a method of proving character in such circumstances under the rule; and (2) the circuit court erred in finding no factual dispute as to who was the first aggressor, and the error was not harmless. View "State v. DeLeon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) concluding that the circuit court erred in granting Defendant’s motion to dismiss his charge of theft as a continuing course of conduct after concluding that Defendant could not simultaneously be charged with the theft count and five individual counts of forgery. The ICA vacated the circuit court’s order granting Defendant’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the State was not barred from charging Defendant with theft in the second degree for passing five fraudulently executed checks amounting to $720 over the course of six days as a continuing course of conduct. On appeal, Defendant argued that when the State charged him with five separate counts of forgery, it recognized the episodic nature of each act and therefore could not simultaneously charge him with theft under a continuing course of conduct theory. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that theft can be charged as a continuing course of conduct, notwithstanding a decision to charge individual counts of forgery. View "State v. Yokota" 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 held in this criminal case that pursuant to its recent decision in Flubacher v. State, 414 P.3d 161 (Haw. 2018), Petitioner was entitled to relief under Hawai’i Rules of Penal Procedure (HRPP) Rule 40. Petitioner was found guilty of three counts of first-degree sexual assault and eight counts of third-degree sexual assault. The court sentenced Petitioner to extended terms of imprisonment under the multiple offender statute, Haw. Rev. Stat. 706-662(4)(a). In his amended Rule 40 petition, Petitioner argued that his extended term sentences were “illegal sentences” under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 446 (2000). The Supreme Court agreed, holding that because the findings of fact in support of imposing extended terms were made by the judge, rather than a jury, Petitioner’s extended term sentences were imposed in an illegal manner. View "Preble v. State " on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Appellant’s extended term sentence was imposed in an illegal manner and, accordingly, vacated the circuit court’s order denying Appellant’s motion for correction of illegal sentence with regard to the extended term sentence. A judge, and not a jury, determined in 2004 that Appellant’s extended term sentence was necessary for the protection of the public, which was contrary to the Supreme Court’s holding in Flubacher v. State, 414 P.3d 161 (Haw. 2018). Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s order denying Appellant’s motion for correction of illegal sentence as to the extended term sentence. View "Marks v. State " on Justia Law

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At issue was whether the Intermediate Court of Appeals’ (ICA) judgment on appeal, entered pursuant to its memorandum opinion affirming the circuit court’s order granting in part and denying in part Appellant’s petition for postconviction relief, was proper. In this case, a judge, rather than a jury, determined in 2004 that Appellant’s extended term sentence was necessary for the protection of the public, which was contrary to the Supreme Court’s holding in Flubacher v. State, 414 P.3d 161 (Haw. 2018). Therefore, the Court concluded that Appellant’s extended term sentence was imposed in an illegal manner. Therefore, the Supreme Court vacated in part the ICA’s judgment on appeal as to the extended term sentence, vacated in part the circuit court’s order as to the extended term sentence, and remanded this case for further proceedings. As to the other issues discussed in the ICA’s memorandum opinion and judgment on appeal were not before the Court, the Court did not disturb the ICA’s conclusions as to those other issues. View "Batalona v. State " on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the circuit court refusing to accept Tracy Souza’s offer to stipulate to his prior felony conviction, which constituted an element of an offense with which he was charged. Souza was charged by felony information with place to keep unloaded firearms other than pistols and revolvers and ownership or possession prohibited of any firearm or ammunition by a person convicted of certain crimes. Following jury selection, Souza stipulated to his prior felony conviction. The jury found Souza guilty of both charged offenses. On appeal, Souza maintained that he was forced to accept the State’s proposed stipulation, which contained facts that were not elements of the offense and were unduly prejudicial. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the manner in which the circuit court addressed Souza’s offer to stipulate to the prior conviction element was inconsistent with this Court’s decision in State v. Murray, 169 P.3d 955 (Haw. 2007), and the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Souza" 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