Monday, March 30, 2015

The Previously-Unknown Cabbage Defense

State v. Bowman (ICA February 27, 2015)
Background. Max Bowman was charged with spilling on the highway in violation of HRS § 291C-131. Bowman, a farmer, was driving a truck full of cabbage from his field in Honokaa to Paauilo on the Big Island. He was driving a green flatbed pickup truck with cabbage in the bed. It was not covered. He drove on Route 19—the Hawaii Belt Road—when Officer Romeo Fuiava passed him in the opposite lane. Officer Fuiava kept heading in his direction and saw either cabbage or lettuce in the back of Bowman’s truck. About a half a mile down the road, Fuiava saw lettuce leaves on the road. Fuiava turned around and caught up to Bowman at “Earl’s store.” Bowman was given a citation.

At the trial, the prosecutor orally arraigned Bowman like this:

On or about the 28th day of August, 2013, in Hamakua, State and County of Hawaii, Max Bowman was the operator of a motor vehicle being moved on a highway, which vehicle was not so constructed, covered, or loaded as to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting, leaking, blowing, spilling, or otherwise escaping therefrom, thereby a violation of Section 291C-101(a).

Bowman argued that he had been mischarged under subsection (a) and thought that subsection (c) was more applicable to him. Subsection (c) reads:

Vehicles carrying agricultural produce from fields during harvesting shall be exempt from the requirements of this section, but the owner of the vehicle must provide a reasonable removal of all such produce spilled or dropped on the highway.

At trial, Bowman testified that he had harvested the cabbage from his field and admitted some fell onto the highway. The amount was only a few leaves. “It was trimmings. I actually drove past that section of the road later in the day, did not see any of it. I can only imagine the wind blew it off the road to decompose in a matter of days on the side, or it had been run over sufficiently and evaporated on the road. . . . And if reasonable removal is any indication, I feel risk of life and limb, running onto the road, cabbage three or four leaves of cabbage as opposed to letting it decompose naturally does not sound reasonable to me.”

The District Court disagreed and concluded that Bowman’s actions toward removal were unreasonable. The District Court noted that had Bowman gone and picked it up, he would have been acquitted. Bowman was found guilty and sentenced to pay a fine of $250 and a $7 driver education assessment fee. Bowman appealed.

Bowman’s Argument. Here are the two provisions at issue:

(a) No vehicle shall be moved on any highway, unless the vehicle is so constructed, covered, or loaded as to prevent any of its load other than clear water or feathers from live birds from dropping, sifting, leaking, blowing, spilling, or otherwise escaping therefrom, except that sand may be dropped for the purposes of securing traction, or water or other substance may be sprinkled on a highway in cleaning or maintaining the highway.
. . . .
(c) Vehicles carrying agricultural produce from fields during harvesting shall be exempt from the requirements of this section, but the owner of the vehicle must provide a reasonable removal of all such produce spilled or dropped on the highway.

HRS § 291C-131.

Bowman argued that these paragraphs are two separate offenses: one general offense for all vehicles, and a more specific one for vehicles that carry agricultural produce from fields. The ICA disagreed.

It’s a Defense, not a Separate Offense. According to the ICA, the first paragraph is the general offense and the second one is an exception to that general prohibition. In other words, subsection (c) is a defense to the general offense in subsection (a). When an “exception is embodied in the language of the enacting clause of a criminal statute, and therefore appears to be an integral part of the verbal description of the offense, the burden is on the prosecution to negative that exception, prima facie, as part of its main case.” State v. Jenkins, 93 Hawaii 87, 106-07, 997 P.2d 13, 32-33 (2000). But when the exception is found elsewhere—like in a separate section—“the burden is on the defendant to bring forward evidence of exceptive facts that constitute a defense. The prosecution is not required in such instances to negative, by proof in advance, exceptions not found in the enacting clause.” Id. And so the prosecution correctly charged Bowman.

Is Something Tough to Prove the new Absurd Result? The ICA also noted that if it were to adopt Bowman’s argument—that these were two separate offenses—it would lead to an absurd result. According to the ICA, it would be up to the prosecution to demonstrate at the outset that the vehicle was carrying agricultural produce from fields and that the vehicle had been carrying them during harvesting. These facts are “squarely within the knowledge and control of the defendant” and the prosecution would not have “access to information necessary to properly charge” a defendant. That, apparently, is why it would be absurd to hold that this is a separate offense.

Is that absurd? Simply because it’s hard to prove? Is that the new standard in finding an absurd result? Yes, it can be proven. And yes, it is not illogical or an impossibility—the traditional hallmarks of an absurd result—it’s just hard for the prosecution to establish. Is this a marked departure?

The Initial Burden of Establishing a Defense? The ICA never held that this is an affirmative defense. Quite to the contrary, it held that the prosecution must negate this defense once Bowman met the initial burden of production in subsection (c)—that he was in a vehicle carrying agricultural products from the field during harvest time and that he was not unreasonable in trying to clean it up. Without much explanation, the ICA simply held that the there was sufficient evidence to support the conviction because there was evidence that Bowman failed to clean up the leaves of cabbage from a major highway. The ICA did not go into much detail about the burden of production and that all that was needed was a prima facie case before it shifts over to the prosecution to disprove it. After all, a non-affirmative defense is still an element that must be disproven by the prosecution. HRS § 702-205. In these cases, all the defendant needs to do is raise reasonable doubt. See HRS § 701-115 Commentary. And so if this is a defense as the ICA holds and if it is a non-affirmative defense, then how come it’s not enough for Bowman to simply raise the fact that he was transporting cabbage from a field and went back to see if any leaves were still there to trigger the prosecution’s burden in disproving the defense? Did the ICA shift the burden too strongly onto the defendant here?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

“Alcohol” is not an Element to DUI

State v. Turping (ICA February 25, 2015)
Background. Lori Turping was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant. HRS § 291E-61. Specifically she was charged with operating a vehicle while “under the influence of alcohol.” The complaint did not include the statutory definition of the term “alcohol,” which is defined in HRS § 291E-1. Turping moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the complaint failed to include the statutory definition of the term. The motion was denied, the district court found her guilty, and she appealed.

Defining “Alcohol”: an Element or a Defense? The term “alcohol” means “the product of distillation of any fermented liquid, regardless of whether rectified, whatever may be the origin thereof, and includes ethyl alcohol, lower aliphatic alcohol, and phenol as well as synthetic ethyl alcohol, but not denatured or other alcohol that is considered not potable under the customs laws of the United States.” HRS § 291E-1.

“It has long been held that indictments need not anticipate and negate possible defenses; rather, it is left to the defendant to show his defenses at trial.” State v. Adams, 64 Haw. 568, 569, 645 P.2d 308, 309 (1982). And so an indictment need not include defenses in order to be sufficient. Id. at 568-70, 645 P.2d at 309-10.

The ICA set up a framework for determining whether a statutory exception is a defense or an essential element:

[W]here an exception is embodied in the language of the enacting clause of a criminal statute, and therefore appears to be an integral part of the verbal description of the offense, the burden is on the prosecution to negative that exception, prima facie, as part of its case.

This general rule does not apply, however, when the facts hypothesized in the exceptive provision are peculiarly within the knowledge of the defendant, or the evidence concerning them is within the defendant’s private control. Furthermore, when the exception appears somewhere other than in the enacting clause, and is thus a distinct substantive exception or proviso, the burden is on the defendant to bring forward evidence of exceptive facts that constitute a defense. The prosecutor is not required in such instance to negative, by proof in advance, exceptions not found in the enacting clause.

State v. Nobriga, 10 Haw. App. 353, 357-58, 873 P.2d 110, 112-13 (1994).

The ICA applied this framework to Turping’s case and held that “alcohol” is not an essential element to the offense. According to the ICA, alcohol is denatured by adding substances that render it unfit for drinking. 27 C.F.R. §§ 21.11, 21.21, 21.31. Non-potable alcohol is alcohol not fit for drinking. Thus, denatured or non-potable alcohol is excepted from the statutory definition and exempts those who are intoxicated by alcohol that is unfit for drinking. Moreover, the term “alcohol” is not in the same place as the enacting statute. Accordingly, this is a defense that need not be pleaded in the complaint.

And You can Forget About Wheeler While You’re at It. The ICA rejected Turping’s argument that this complaint was just as defective as the complaint in State v. Wheeler, 121 Hawaii 383, 219 P.3d 1170 (2009). Unlike the term “operate,” which was held to be an essential element that needs to be pleaded in the complaint, id. at 393-96, 219 P.3d at 1180-83, the term “alcohol” is not a hidden element. It creates no additional element that must be proven by the prosecution.

Monday, February 9, 2015

ICA Won’t Extend Hussein to the HPA

Nichols v. State (ICA December 24, 2014)
Background. Nicholas Nichols was charged with various felonies in two separate cases. One case involved a home invasion and a shooting. The other case arose out of an assault in Kalakaua District Park. Nichols entered a plea agreement. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts in the assault and fifteen felonies in the home-invasion case. The parties agreed that for each count, he would be sentenced to prison and that he would serve some offenses concurrently. The parties, however, were free to argue that some should run consecutively. The prosecution also agreed not to seek extended terms of imprisonment. In the assault case, the circuit court sentenced Nichols to ten years concurrently in the assault case. In the home-invasion case, Nichols was sentenced to prison on those with a five-year mandatory minimum on seven of the counts. All would run concurrently to each other and total twenty years. In the end, though, the circuit court imposed that the assault case run consecutively to the home-invasion case making a total of thirty years with a mandatory minimum of five years.

Nichols was given counsel for the minimum-term hearing before the Hawaii Paroling Authority. The HPA held the hearing and issued its order. It found that Nichols was a Level III offender and set its minimum term at 30 years—in other words, it maxed him out. The HPA stated that the “significant factors identified in determining the level of punishment” included (1) the nature of the offense and (2) degree of injury to person. There was no other explanation.

Nichols petitioned the circuit court pursuant to HRPP Rule 40, but it was dismissed without a hearing. Nichols appealed.

Reviewing the Minimum Term Determination. A Rule 40 petition is the appropriate way to challenge a minimum term of imprisonment set by the HPA. Coulter v. State, 116 Hawaii 181, 184, 172 P.3d 493, 496 (2007). “[J]udicial intervention is appropriate where the HPA has failed to exercise any discretion at all, acted arbitrarily and capriciously so as to give rise to a due process violation, or otherwise violated the prisoner’s constitutional rights.” Williamson v. Hawaii Paroling Auth., 97 Hawaii 183, 195, 35 P.3d 210, 222 (2001). Judicial review is limited to situations in which “the decision of a state administrative agency is an arbitrary one . . . made without fair, solid, and substantial cause or reason; but it is not necessarily so because mistakenly or even wrong[.]” Id. Review is limited to whether “the parole board has followed the appropriate criteria, rational and consistent with the applicable statutes and that its decision is not arbitrarily and capricious nor based on impermissible considerations.” Id.

Stating the Reasons for the Heavy Minimum. The ICA looked at the HPA’s powers and roles. First, the HPA has the power to equate the minimum with the maximum sentence. Williamson, 97 Hawaii at 195, 35 P.3d at 222. The ICA noted that such action was “extraordinary” and would normally require a more detailed explanation by the HPA before taking that action. “Where the absence of a more detailed explanation would prevent our meaningful review of, or leave us in doubt, whether the HPA acted arbitrarily or capriciously in applying its Guidelines, we may require a more detailed explanation.”

But not here. The ICA actually held that in this case there was enough in the record for it to see how the HPA reached its decision. Nichols’ conduct was violent in both cases. People were shot, paralyzed, and seriously injured. That was satisfactory for the ICA to affirm the dismissal of his Rule 40 petition.

The HPA is not a Sentencing Court. In reaching this holding, the ICA noted that unlike the circuit court, which must state its reasons for consecutive terms of imprisonment, State v. Hussein, 122 Hawaii 495, 509-10, 229 P.3d 313, 327-28 (2010), the HPA is held to different standards, but it was unclear which standards the ICA meant. A sentencing court has the power to impose consecutive terms. It’s just that when it does exercise that power it has to state on the record why consecutive terms are necessary. Similarly, the HPA has the power to max out inmates. But here the ICA did not extend the disclosure requirement from Hussein to the HPA. Could this be an open invite for the HSC to do just that? We’ll see.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pretrial Colloquy Must Include Notice that Right NOT to Testify Cannot be Used Against Defendant

State v. Monteil (HSC December 23, 2014)
Background. James Monteil was charged with one count of prostitution. HRS § 712-1200(1). He pleaded not guilty. At the start of the bench trial, the district court judge engaged in a colloquy about his rights. The court asked Monteil if he understood that no one could force him to testify, that no one could force him to present evidence, that the State had to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, that if he did wish to testify, he’d have to testify under oath and be subjected to cross-examination by the prosecutor, and that he could wait to decide to testify until after the State finished presenting its case. Monteil said he understood these rights. The trial court did not inform Monteil that if he did not testify, his silence could not be used against him in deciding the case.

At trial, HPD Sgt. Chad Taniyama testified that he posted an ad on “” entitled “ExOtIC BeAuTy AwAiTs You ToDaY.” Here’s the ad:

Hey fellas my name is SiN.
I am here for a short visit, take advantage while you can.
I’m proof that amazing beauty comes in small packages. I’m
5’ with race car curves and eager to make your dreams come
true. Your imagination is our only limit. 100% REAL!! I
guarantee you won’t want to say goodbye.
420 Friendly.
Send me a message at to set up an

Sgt. Taniyama testified that he received an email from Monteil and had an email exchange as “SiN.” They made arrangements to meet in Kona. Sgt. Taniyama informed Monteil that it would cost $300 for “GFE experience for an hour or two” and made arrangements at a hotel in Kona. On the day of the arranged time and place, Monteil showed up and met with Officer Sharon Yoon, who was dressed up “as a prostitute.” Monteil went inside the room and Officer Yoon said she was “gonna get ready.” She left the room and other officers came in. They arrested Monteil and he had $300 cash on his person. Sgt. Taniyama explained that “GFE” stood for “girlfriend experience,” which according to the officer, meant sexual intercourse without contraceptives. There was no express evidence that Monteil came into the room to have sex.

Monteil took the stand without further colloquy. He testified that he had no intention of having sex, but was looking for an escort to take to dinner and have a drink. He said that he thought “GFE” meant “good-faith estimate” or “good fun everywhere experience,” which, according to him, was a common term in the hotel industry. The district court found Monteil guilty and sentenced him to a $500 fine. He appealed and the ICA affirmed.

Sufficiency of Evidence. Evidence is sufficient to sustain the verdict when “there is ‘substantial evidence’ to support the conclusion of the trier of fact.” State v. Matavale, 115 Hawaii 149, 157-58, 166 P.3d 322, 330-31 (2007). Substantial evidence is “credible evidence which is of sufficient quality and probative value to enable a person of reasonable caution to support a conclusion.” Id. at 158, 166 P.3d at 331.

A person commits the offense of prostitution if he or she “pays, agrees to pay, or offers to pay a fee to another to engage in sexual conduct.” HRS § 712-1200(1)(b). Here the crux of the issue came down to payment in exchange for sexual conduct. Both Sgt. Taniyama and Monteil had different definitions of “GFE experience.” The district court relied on the officer’s definition over Monteil’s. That was enough for the HSC to affirm the ICA’s conclusion that there had been sufficient evidence to convict Monteil of the offense of prostitution.

The Pre-Trial Colloquy Must Include Notice that Not Testifying Cannot be Used Against Defendant. Just as the defendant has the right to testify at trial, he or she also has the right to not testify. State v. Silva, 78 Hawaii 115, 124, 890 P.2d 702, 711 (App. 1995). This was well established in Hawaii long before Statehood too. King v. McGiffin, 7 Haw. 104, 114 (Haw. King. 1887) (prosecutor’s comment on defendant’s failure to testify was “highly improper”). Modern-day rules of evidence also prohibit any negative inference to be drawn from the defendant’s refusal to testify. HRE Rule 513(a). In order to ensure that this right is respected, the trial court must engage in an open colloquy with the defendant that “he or she has the right not to testify and that if he or she does not testify then the jury can be instructed about that right.” Tachibana v. State, 79 Hawaii 226, 236 n. 7, 900 P.2d 1293, 1303 n. 7 (1995). The colloquy is required only when the defendant does not testify.

The HSC held that “in order to more fully protect the right not to testify under the Hawaii Constitution, the trial courts when informing the defendant of the right not to testify during the pretrial advisement must also advise the defendant that the exercise of this right may not be used by the fact finder to decide the case.” However, the HSC limited the effectiveness to trials starting after the date of this opinion.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Discovery Shenanigans and Race-Based Sentencing

State v. David (ICA December 15, 2014)
Background. Peter David was charged with second-degree murder of Santhony Albert and second-degree assault with a dangerous instrument of Torokas Kikku. During the opening statement, the prosecutor, Darrell Wong, told the jury that the three of them were at Kikku’s apartment in Waipahu. David and Albert were drinking and wrestling. At some point, David’s cousins point out that David had a cut on his nose. The prosecutor told the jury that at that point, David said “[n]obody does this to me, make me look like this, beat me up.”

After the opening statement, David’s counsel, Edward Aquino, objected that that statement was not made part of the discovery. The prosecutor responded that his understanding of discovery rules required only disclosure of written or recorded statements by the defendant. The circuit court—without correcting the prosecutor’s understanding of the rules—ruled that it was not going to preclude the statement, but give David ample time to prepare if necessary. The prosecutor identified Kikku as the witness who would testify that David made the statement. The circuit court ordered the prosecutor to make Kikku available for the defense counsel to interview. David declined, but requested a further opportunity to interview Kikku and explore possible alternatives.

Trial began and before Kikku testified, the circuit court asked David’s counsel if he had time to prepare for the statement. Kikku revealed further that she told the prosecutors about David’s statement on two separate occasions—once in July and again in three days before trial. David again renewed his claim of unfair surprise and asked that the statement be excluded. The request was again denied.

In the middle of Kikku’s testimony, the parties held a bench conference where the prosecutor proffered that Kikku would say that David told Albert, “I want the beer that you have in your car.” Albert said, “no, you can’t have the beer” and David was upset. David’s counsel objected to this brand new statement that had not been disclosed by the prosecution. David moved for a mistrial. The circuit court ruled that the statement should have been disclosed, but there was other evidence established that David and Albert were upset with each other and that they had been drinking alcohol. The circuit court denied the motion and ruled that the prosecution’s failure to disclose “can be cured by a continuance[.]” Kikku testified about the statement regarding the beer and about the statement during the opening.

The prosecution later elicited evidence that Albert and David got into a fight and that Albet had been stabbed to death. There was also some evidence that David threw rocks at Kikku and she had scratches on her arms. After the prosecution rested, David testified. He said that he was invited to the party in Waipahu and that he was not fighting with Albert in the parking lot when the police arrived. He denied talking to the police in the parking lot.

The prosecution then sought to call rebuttal witnesses that would impeach David’s testimony as to what he said to the police in the parking lot and impeach the invitation to the party. Over David’s objection, the circuit court allowed the witnesses to testify.

David was found guilty of manslaughter and assault in the second degree. At the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor highlighted the fact that David was from Chuuk, Micronesia and said “we’re talking Micronesians who get inebriated on alcohol, then become violent with their own family members, their own friends and they involve knives.” The prosecutor urged a 20-year sentence in order to “send[] a message to the Micronesian community” that this behavior “is not acceptable in the laws of the United States and the State of Hawaii.” The prosecutor prefaced these comments by saying he “by no means mean[t] to be a racist about anything.”

The circuit court sentenced David to prison for 20 years.

Discovery Violations and the Remedies for them. The ICA made it clear that the prosecutor violated the discovery rules. The prosecution is required to disclose to the defense, “any written or recorded statements and the substance of any oral statements made by the defendant[.]” HRPP Rule 16(b)(1)(ii). The duty to disclose continues and the prosecution must disclose materials when it learns about its existence. HRPP Rule 16(e)(2). The prosecutor’s failure to disclose David’s statements about his nose and the beer violated Rule 16.

Once a violation is found, the trial court has discretion in fashioning a remedy. When a party has failed to comply with the discovery rules, “the court may order such party to permit the discovery, grant a continuance, or it may enter such other order as it deems just under the circumstances.” When exercising this discretion, the trial court “should take into account the reasons why the disclosure was not made, the extent of prejudice, if any, the feasibility of rectifying that prejudice by a continuance, and any other relevant circumstance.” State v. Dowsett, 10 Haw. App. 491, 495, 878 P.2d 739, 742 (1994). The court must look to less drastic measures to rectify the prejudice before declaring a mistrial. Id.

In this case, the ICA held that while the prosecutor clearly violated Rule 16 by not disclosing these statements, its failure to disclose did not warrant dismissal and the chance to continue the case was an adequate remedy.

Prosecution can call Rebuttal Witnesses to Impeach Defendant’s Testimony. There are three basic rules when it comes to rebuttal evidence:

First, as a general rule, a party is bound to give all available evidence in support of an issue in the first instance it is raised at trial and will not be permitted to hold back evidence confirmatory of his or her case and then offer it on rebuttal.
Second, this general rule does not necessarily apply where the evidence sought to be presented on rebuttal is “negative of a potential defense,” even if the evidence also confirmatory of an affirmative position upon which the party seeking to present the evidence bears the burden of proof.
Third, although a plaintiff is not required to call, during his or her case-in-chief, every conceivable witness who might contradict a potential defense witness, it is also generally true that a party cannot, as a matter of right, offer in rebuttal evidence which was proper or should have been introduced in chief, even though it tends to contradict the adverse party’s evidence, it may and generally should decline to admit the evidence.

State v. Duncan, 101 Hawaii 269, 276, 67 P.3d 768, 775 (2003). So because rebuttal evidence is not a matter of right, the trial court has the discretion to permit rebuttal evidence. Id.

Here, the prosecution sought to call rebuttal witnesses that contradicted or impeached David’s testimony on two points: that he had been invited to Waipahu and that he did not speak to the police. The ICA concluded that this rebuttal evidence went to credibility issues of the witnesses, including David, and it was not an abuse of discretion in allowing them to testify after David.

Sending a Message to the “Micronesian Community.” The ICA made it pretty clear: “a defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin cannot be used as a justification for the imposition of a harsher penalty on the defendant.” Similarly, an “appeal to racial prejudice threatens our multicultural society and constitutional values. We must therefore recognize that our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.” State v. Rogan, 91 Hawaii 405, 414-15, 984 P.2d 1231, 1240-41 (1999). The ICA held that the prosecutor’s sentencing remarks were “highly improper.” He emphasized David’s ethnicity and used negative stereotypes about Micronesians and urged the sentencing court to make an example of him for the rest of the Micronesian community. These comments were so inflammatory that the sentencing court should have taken to ensure that its sentence was not in anyway the result of the comments. And even though the court did not accept or rely on the prosecutor’s representations about Micronesians, “justice must satisfy the appearance of justice[.]” Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 14 (1954). And so the ICA vacated the judgment and remanded the case to sentencing before a different judge.

Friday, December 26, 2014

“Penetrating and Comprehensive” Approach to Motions to Withdraw

State v. Harter (HSC December 10, 2014)
Background. Letitia Harter was charged with assault of a law enforcement officer in the second degree, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. The charges stemmed from an incident in a Honolulu nightclub, Club 939. Harter initially called the police but the police ended up trying to arrest her for disorderly conduct. The arresting officer later testified as he attempted to “gain control” of Harter, she swung at or around him and scratched the officer’s chin.

At the arraignment, Harter was represented by the public defender. After a few continuances of the trial date and while discovery requests remained outstanding by the prosecution, Harter’s counsel requested that its office withdraw as her lawyer. Harter told the court that she was not happy with her lawyer. She said that after multiple attempts to reach her lawyer, when she finally talked to her lawyer, her lawyer she was crazy when she said she had a new job as an assistant casting director for MTV. The motion was granted and a new trial date was set. The court appointed Te-Hina Ickes as counsel.

There were more continuances with Ickes. On the fourth request for a continuance, this time by the prosecution, Ickes objected on the grounds that the defense was ready to proceed. The requested was granted over objection and set for trial. On that trial date, Ickes orally moved to withdraw as counsel. Ickes told the court that she had just been informed that Harter was unhappy with the way she was being represented and “would like me to withdraw.” Ickes explained that Harter had complained that she was not prepared, not paying enough attention, didn’t return her phone calls, and did not have enough time to prepare for trial. Ickes also pointed out that withdrawal may be necessary to avoid any later claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Finally, Ickes told the court that there had been a breakdown in communication because “she no longer trusts me” and it was going to interfere with the way she represents her at trial. The court did not rule on the motion and ordered Harter to talk to Ickes after the hearing and come back the next day for trial.

The next day, the court asked Harter if she sat down with Ickes and talked with her. Harter said she went to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and she did not meet with Ickes because she “didn’t hear you say that I needed to talk to my attorney.” After a heated exchange between Harter and the court, the court denied the motion to withdraw. The court ordered that if Harter still wants Ickes to represent her, she will. If not, “she will go to trial alone, by herself, without an attorney, but we’re going to trial this morning.”

Ickes represented her at trial. The jury found Harter guilty as charged. At the sentencing hearing, Harter addressed the court and made incoherent and strange claims about the FBI and the arresting officer. The court sentenced Harter to a year in jail. Ickes moved to withdraw as counsel, which was granted. A new counsel moved for reconsideration of the sentence, but it was denied. Harter appealed and the ICA affirmed.

Motion to Withdraw as Counsel. The right to the assistance of counsel in a criminal case “will not be satisfied by the mere formal appointment of an attorney.” State v. Kane, 52 Haw. 484, 486, 479 P.2d 207, 209 (1971). And even though “there is no absolute right, constitutional or otherwise, for an indigent to have the court order a change in court-appointed counsel,” State v. Torres, 54 Haw. 502, 504, 510 P.2d 494, 496 (1973), when an indigent defendant asks for new counsel, the trial court has a “duty to conduct a ‘penetrating and comprehensive examination’ of the defendant on the record, in order to ascertain the bases for the defendant’s request.” State v. Soares, 81 Hawaii 332, 355, 916 P.2d 1233, 1256 (App. 1996). The court’s inquiry must allow the court to determine if “good cause” exists to warrant substitution of counsel. Id. Typically, good causes exists if there is a conflict of interest on the part of defense counsel, a complete breakdown in communication between the attorney and client, or an irreconcilable difference between the attorney and the client. Id.

Trial Court’s Duty to Inquire About Conflicts of Interest. The trial court must make a “penetrating and comprehensive” inquiry when the judge should reasonably know that a conflict of interest exists. Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 447 (1980). According to the HSC, this is a “strict requirement.” Generally, a conflict of interest arises when the attorney is in a situation that would be conducive to divided loyalties. State v. Richie, 88 Hawaii 19, 41, 960 P.2d 1227, 1249 (1998). See also Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.7 (“lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation of that client may be materially limited by the . . . lawyer’s own interests unless (1) the lawyer reasonably believes the representation will not be adversely affected; and (2) the client consents after consultation.” (NOTE: the new version of this rule has different requirements. Check it out here!).

The HSC examined HRPC Rule 1.7 and held that the trial court’s “good cause” inquiry should consider (1) the basis for the conflict of interest; (2) the potential that the conflict would materially interfere with counsel’s independent professional judgment in considering what actions to pursue on behalf of the client; (3) the possibility that the conflict could prevent counsel from taking courses of action that reasonably should be pursued; and (4) counsel’s opinion if his or her representation would be adversely affected. If the court finds an actual or potential conflict, the court must disqualify the attorney or explain the situation to the defendant and obtain a waiver if the defendant still wishes to continue with that attorney.

In this case, Ickes told the court at her motion to withdraw, that she felt withdrawal was necessary in order to protect herself from potential claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The court made no inquiry if a potential conflict of interest did in fact exist. Even the next day, when Harter did not meet with Ickes and went to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel instead, the court failed to inquire about a potential conflict.

The HSC Finds a Conflict of Interest. Even though the trial court didn’t make the inquiry, the HSC found a conflict existed between Harter and Ickes. The HSC held that Ickes’ “personal interest of protecting herself professionally” would jeopardize Harter’s right to effective counsel. The HSC agreed with the a D.C. appellate court that as soon as counsel learned of the investigation of the defendant’s complaint to the ODC or its equivalent, counsel “acquired a personal interest in the way he conducted appellant’s defense—an interest independent of, and in some respects in conflict with, appellant’s interest in obtaining a judgment of acquittal.” Douglas v. United States, 488 A.2d 121, 137 (D. C. 1985). The HSC noted that Ickes was in a similar situation. Because no inquiry was made on the record, the HSC held that the record showed good cause to grant the motion to withdraw and appoint substitute counsel.

A Note: Going to the ODC Doesn’t Always Trigger Withdrawal. The HSC noted that a complaint to the ODC does not always give rise to withdrawal of counsel. That’s the entire point of the “penetrating and comprehensive inquiry.”

No Prejudice Required . . . Defense counsel is constitutionally ineffective when there is a conflict of interest. State v. Richie, 88 Hawaii at 44, 960 P.2d at 1252. Actual prejudice is not required. Id. The HSC extended the presumption of prejudice to conflicts in which a personal interest is raised and the trial court fails to conduct any inquiry into the conflict. And so, the HSC held that that trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion to withdraw and substitute counsel.

The “Breakdown in Communication” or “Irreconcilable Differences” Grounds for Withdrawal. The HSC discussed what kind of inquiry is required when a motion to withdraw as counsel is raised on the grounds that there has been irreconcilable differences or a breakdown in communication between counsel and client. The HSC explained that its discussion was to provide guidance as this motion is filed frequently across the State.

Again, like a conflict of interest, the trial court has to conduct a “penetrating and comprehensive inquiry” into the nature of the relationship between counsel and client. The HSC noted that the trial court’s inquiry should focus on the “status and quality of the attorney-client relationship” and assess the extent of such a breakdown in communication or irreconcilable differences. Moreover, the trial court also should consider the delay or inconvenience that would result from a substitution of counsel.

Trial Court’s Duty to Convene Competency Hearing. Whenever there is a reason to believe that a “physical or mental disease, disorder, or defect of the defendant will or has become an issue in the case,” the trial court may sua sponte suspend proceedings and appoint an examiner or panel of examiners to determine the competency of the defendant. HRS § 704-404. The court is “bound to sua sponte convene a . . . hearing if it itself has or is presented with rational basis for believing that the physical or mental defect of a defendant will become an issue on the question of fitness or responsibility.” State v. Castro, 93 Hawaii 454, 462, 5 P.3d 444, 452 (App. 2000). In this case, the HSC held that it should have been apparent to the trial court that a mental disease, disorder, or defect raised the question of Harter’s competency. Her testimony at trial and statements to the court were disjointed and bizarre. Moreover, it appeared that her mental state deteriorated by the time of the sentencing hearing. She claimed, among other things, that this was a case of mistaken identity supported by evidence from her boyfriend’s dad and a Supreme Court justice. This duty, according to the HSC, is distinct from defense counsel’s duty to raise the issue. Here, the HSC held that the trial court abused its discretion in not ordering a mental fitness examination.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Trial Court Can’t Stop Lawyers from Asking Witnesses if they Lie

State v. Locken (ICA November 28, 2014)
Background. Andrew Locken was charged with assault in the second degree against Larsen Kaneda and assault in the third degree against Karinne Wong, Kaneda’s girlfriend. Locken lived with two brothers: Konrad and Hans Bruesehoff. The Bruesehoffs lived with Kaneda. This group and some others went out to Dave & Buster’s for about two hours. Outside D&B, Locken got into an argument with a “local guy” that escalated to a challenge to fight. Wong intervened and the group drove home. From there, the testimonies are dramatically different.

Kaneda and Wong testified for the prosecution. Their version was that once back at the Bruesehoff house, Wong asked Locken why he’d want to start a fight when Hans was disabled (he had a pacemaker and artificial discs in his back). Wong testified that less than six months before that night, Locken was in a similar incident in which Locken wanted to fight a “local guy” that had “falsecracked” Konrad. On that night, Wong asked if Locken would pick his pride over other people’s safety. Locken said he’d pick his pride and got aggressive with them. He challenged Hans to a fight. Locken was restrained by others there, but called out to Hans.

As Wong tired to calm Locken down, Locken grabbed Wong’s hair and kicked her in the thigh. Kaneda intervened and Locken started kicking him. He landed about three kicks on Kaneda. Eventually others intervened and Locken was subdued.

The defense called two witnesses who were there. They said that Wong and Hans were acting drunk and that Wong was pestering Locken. She was yelling hysterically at him and Locken told her to mind her own business. That was when Wong lunged at Locken and tried to scratch or strike him. Kaneda attempted to pull Wong away and Konrad pushed at Locken. Locken did not grab Wong and didn’t kick or strike Wong or Kaneda.

During the trial, Locken’s counsel attempted to cross-examine Kaneda about his statements to the examining doctor. During that cross-examination, Locken asked if Kaneda lied to the doctor. The prosecution objected on the grounds that it was argumentative and the objection was sustained. After a few more objections were sustained, Locken moved for a mistrial. During a bench conference, the circuit court explained that it believed that asking a witness if he or she was lying called for a legal conclusion of some kind that only the jury could determine. The circuit court later ruled that Locken could not ask any witnesses if they lied. The judge (Judge Ahn) said that such questioning was prohibited and “is just not done.”

The jury found Locken guilty of the lesser-included assault in the third degree against Kaneda and guilty as charged for Wong. The circuit court sentenced him to probation for a year. Locken appealed.

“Falsecracked” Konrad. Locken argued that Wong should have never been permitted to testify about the incident in which Locken wanted to fight a “local guy” that “falsecracked” Konrad. The ICA disagreed.

Evidence of prior bad acts are not admissible to show the character of a person, but may “be admissible where such evidence is probative of another fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, modus operandi, or absence of mistake or accident.” HRE Rule 404(b). This list is not exhaustive. State v. Clark, 83 Hawaii 289, 300, 926 P.2d 194, 205 (1996). According to the ICA, the prior bad act was not to show a propensity, but rather to explain why Wong asked Locken about choosing between his pride and other people’s safety. It was “relevant to showing the context for the questions directed at Locken by Wong and Locken’s reaction to those comments.” The ICA held that it also showed why Wong questioned Locken in the first place. That was enough for the ICA to hold that the prior bad act was relevant and admissible under HRE Rule 404(b).

Witnesses Know when they’re Lying. The ICA did, however, hold that the circuit court erred in ruling that the defense could not ask a witness if he was lying. Such a question—you lied to so-and-so or “weren’t you lying just now?”—must be distinguished from asking them to comment on other witnesses’ veracity. See State v. Maluia, 107 Hawaii 20, 25, 108 P.3d 974, 979 (2005). Asking a witness if he is lying is different than asking them to comment on the veracity of another witness. Whether a witness was lying goes directly to the witness’s credibility and prohibiting the defense from asking such questions is erroneous.

However, because Locken was able to show that Kaneda’s statements to the police were inconsistent with his trial testimony, the ICA held that he had sufficiently attacked Kaneda’s credibility and that the circuit court’s erroneous ruling was not harmless.

Other Issues. The ICA rejected the other issues raised by Locken which pertained to the wording of the self-defense instruction and the circuit court’s refusal to allow Locken to recall a witness to ask him if he had seen Kaneda in a sling earlier in the evening. The judgment was affirmed.