Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Right to Counsel of Choice is Strong Enough to Outweigh a Jury that’s Ready to Go.

State v. Reed (HSC June 17, 2015)
Background. Ikaika Reed was charged with assault in the first degree. The allegation stems from an incident at the Waianae Boat Harbor, where during the early morning hours, Reed punched a guy in the face while holding the knife and caused a laceration across the guy’s face from “the tip of his ear to the tip of his nose.” If convicted, he was looking at a ten-year prison term with a mandatory minimum of three years and four months.

Shortly after his arraignment, the Office of the Public Defender was appointed to represent him. Twenty-seven days after the appointment, the public defender moved to continue trial because he had not received a copy of the grand jury proceedings. Trial was continued. About a week before trial, Reed moved to continue again. The motion was continued briefly. Five days before the trial date, Reed told the court that he was looking for retained counsel and requested more time. The prosecution did not object, but the circuit court denied the motion.

On the day of trial, Reed appeared with privately retained counsel and renewed his request for a continuance. The public defender moved to withdraw. Reed’s retained counsel explained that if the continuance was granted, he would be able to represent Reed at trial. The circuit court nonetheless found Reed’s request “dilatory” and denied the continuance and the public defender’s motion to withdraw.

After a two-day trial, the jury found Reed guilty. The circuit court sentenced Reed to ten years prison with the mandatory minimum of three years and four months. Reed appealed and the ICA affirmed.

Your Constitutional Right to the Lawyer of your Choice. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 14 of the Hawaii Constitution includes “the right to privately retained counsel of choice.” State v. Maddagan, 95 Hawaii 177, 179-80, 19 P.3d 1289, 1291-92 (2001). The right to retained counsel is so important that deprivation of it results in “structural error.” State v. Cramer, 129 Hawaii 296, 303, 299 P.3d 756, 763 (2013). A structural error affects the structure in which the trial took place, not the trial process itself. State v. Ortiz, 91 Hawaii 181, 193, 981 P.2d 1127, 1139 (1999). And so structural errors are not subject to harmless review. The HSC noted that inherent in the right to retained counsel is the fact that that the accused “should have confidence and trust in his or her counsel, and accordingly, in the judicial system as a whole.”

The Maddagan-Cramer-(and now)-Reed Balancing Test. Like all rights, the right to retained counsel is not absolute. When the court considers a motion to withdraw and substitute counsel, the trial court must give “[d]ue regard” to the defendant’s right to counsel of choice and “countervailing considerations.” Maddagan, 95 Hawaii at 180, 19 P.3d at 1292. The HSC pointed out that in Cramer there were cases from other jurisdictions that had identified a host of factors to determine. In Cramer, however, the trial court only considered the timeliness of the request and failed to address other factors. Id. at 302, 299 P.3d at 762. The HSC held that this case is extremely similar. Every request for a continuance in the case was justified and there was insufficient grounds to deny the motion to withdraw. The prompt administration of justice was simply not enough to justify the circuit court’s denial. And because this was a structural error, no harmlessness needed to be proved. The judgment was vacated and remanded for a new trial.

Sending a Letter Bound for the HPA is not “Remaining Silent” at the HPA.

State v. Garcia (HSC June 15, 2015)
Background. Eddie Garcia was charged with one count of continuous sexual assault of a minor under the age of fourteen years, a Class A felony, and one count of abuse of family household member. He pleaded not guilty and prepared for trial. After the pre-trial voluntariness hearing, Mr. Garcia reached a plea agreement with the prosecution. Mr. Garcia agreed to plead no contest to both counts and agree to 20 years prison concurrent (he wouldn’t have to do 21 years). The prosecution agreed to “remain silent at the minimum term hearing” in front of the Hawaii Paroling Authority.

Before sentencing, Garcia’s family and friends submitted to the pre-sentence investigator letters of support of him. His daughter also wrote a letter asking the Court to lessen his sentence because her mother was struggling without him. The prosecution also submitted a letter and three exhibits. The letter pointed out “some aggravating factors” even though it simultaneously recognized that Garcia’s sentence had already been determined pursuant to the plea agreement. The letter drew attention to the facts underlying the case and the attached exhibits included evidence that was never part of the PSI report, including a transcribed confession by Garcia to the police. The letter drew conclusions from the material by arguing that Garcia has tried to avoid taking responsibility for “his aberrant and sexually predator actions.” The letter also called him a “master manipulator.” Finally, the letter summed up that there should be no factors in favor of withholding imprisonment.

Garcia moved to withdraw his no-contest plea on the grounds that the prosecutor breached her agreement. At the hearing on the motion, the family court, concluded that the prosecutor did not breach the agreement because the PSI had not yet gone to the HPA. The family court—over Garcia’s objection (he wanted to withdraw the plea entirely)—denied the motion, but ordered the old PSI stricken and ordered a new PSI. This time the new PSI did not contain the prosecutor’s letter and attachments. At sentencing the family court sentenced him to 20 years. Garcia appealed and the ICA affirmed. Garcia applied for a writ of cert.

The Two Standards in Evaluating a Motion to Withdraw a Plea. How the court evaluates the withdrawal of a no-contest or guilty plea depends on when the request was made.

Where the request is made after sentence has been imposed, the “manifest injustice” standard is to be applied. But where the motion is presented to the trial court before the imposition of the sentence, a more liberal approach is to be taken, and the motion should be granted if the defendant has presented a fair and just reason for his request and the State has not relied upon the guilty plea to its substantial prejudice.

State v. Jim, 58 Haw. 574, 576, 574 P.2d 521, 522-23 (1978). See also Hawaii Rules of Penal Procedure Rule 32(d). Here, Garcia moved to withdraw the plea before sentencing. That means, according to the HSC, that the issue was whether the prosecutor’s conduct was a fair and just reason for requesting the plea and whether the prosecution relied on the plea to its substantial prejudice.

Submitting a Letter Bound to the HPA was a “Fair and Just” Reason to Get out of the No-Contest Plea. “It is well settled that the terms of a plea agreement, which serve as the inducement for entering a plea, must be fulfilled.” State v. Adams, 76 Haw. 408, 414, 879 P.2d 513, 519 (1994). When the parties enter a plea agreement, “the liberty of the defendant, . . . the honor of the government, public confident in the fair administration of justice, and the efficient administration of justice” are all at stake. People v. Sanders, 191 Cal. App. 3d 79, 87 (Cal. Ct. App. 1987).

According to the HSC, the prosecutor’s sending of the letter and exhibits was “inconsistent” with the prosecution’s promise to “remain silent at the minimum term hearing” before the HPA. Even though the prosecutor knew that Garcia would be sentenced to twenty years and even though the letter would eventually be received by the HPA, the prosecutor submitted it. The letter was more than a factual rehashing of the offense, it also “drew conclusions from this factual information and presented argument attacking Garcia’s character.”

The Family Court’s Intervention Could not Save the No-Contest Plea. The HSC expressly noted that the family court’s effort to prevent the HPA from reaching the letter was not enough. “Although the family court’s intervention protected Garcia from being prejudiced at the HPA, it could not undo the impact on Garcia’s perception of the integrity of the system and the trustworthiness of the government and his own counsel.”

The HSC appeared to be deeply concerned about the loss of confidence and trust that accompanies a breached plea agreement. The HSC noted that “if the integrity of plea agreements is not enforced, defendants may lose trust and confidence in the defense counsel who recommended the plea agreement. This outcome would directly undercut the attorney-client relationship.” See State v. Gaylord, 78 Hawaii 127, 141, 890 P.2d 1167, 1181 (1995) (“the attorney-client relationship requires ‘the highest degree of trust and confidence.’”).

Editor’s Note. In the interest of full disclosure, I represented Mr. Garcia before the ICA and the HSC.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Huge Landowners Can’t have a 1,000-Acre “Residence, Including Yard.”

State v. Guyton (HSC June 8, 2015)
Background. John Varel got a restraining order and later an injunction against Evans Guyton. The order prohibited Guyton from “[e]ntering or visiting [Varel’s] residence, including yard and garage.” Varel lives on a 1,000-acre property out in Waihee on Maui.  Guyton was later charged with violating a restraining order or injunction. HRS § 604-10.5(h). Specifically, the complaint alleged that Guyton of “entering and/or visiting the premises including yard and garage of the residence, and/or place of employment.”

At his trial, Varel described his vast property, including a macadamia nut farm, conservation lands, and his residence. The property starts at the highway and goes all the way up the mountains to the watershed. He testified that he never gave anyone permission to dirt bike on the property. Todd Arnold testified that he was hiking on the Varel property when he saw Guyton riding his dirt bike with others along the ridges near the outer parts of the property. Arnold testified that he knew that they were on the Varel property because he knows where the ridge lines are and that Varel pointed out to him the edge of his property. Varel was recalled to the stand and corroborated Arnold. Guyton then testified and acknowledged that Varel’s property is off limits. The district court found Guyton guilty and fined him $500. Guyton appealed. The ICA affirmed.

How to Construe an Injunction Order. Before punishing a person for violating an injunction order, the order must be so “clear and unambiguous” that a person of ordinary intelligence can “ascertain from the four corners of the order precisely what acts are forbidden.” LeMay v. Leander, 92 Hawaii 614, 625, 994 P.2d 546, 557 (2000).
The issue in this case centered around the injunction order prohibiting Guyton from entering Varel’s “residence, including yard.” According to the HSC, that language is clear and unambiguous. The words must “be taken in their ordinary and familiar signification, and regard is to be had to their general and popular use.” In re Taxes of Johnson, 44 Haw. 519, 530, 356 P.2d 1028, 1034 (1960). Courts may “resort to legal or other well accepted dictionaries as one way to determine the ordinary meaning of certain terms not statutorily defined.” State v. Pali, 129 Hawaii 363, 370, 300 P.3d 1022, 1029 (2013).

“Residence, Including Yard” Doesn’t Cover a 1,000-Acre Property. Turning to the Oxford English Dictionary, the HSC examined the words “residence” and “yard.” “Residence” means a person’s home, the place where someone lives; “yard” is a piece of ground adjoining a building or house. And so based on this, the HSC held that the “residence, including yard” encompassed the house where Varel lives and the adjacent area surrounding it. Interpreting the injunction order so that the entire 1,000-acre property constitutes “residence, including yard” would run afoul with the plain and ordinary meaning of the words. And so the district court and the ICA erred in interpreting the injunction order so expansively.

Even if the Words were Ambiguous, Lenity Would Favor the Defendant. The HSC then went on to examine what would happen if the words were ambiguous. “Where a criminal statute is ambiguous . . . the statute must be strictly construed against the government and in favor of the accused.” State v. Shimabukuro, 100 Hawaii 324, 327, 60 P.3d 274, 277 (2002). So even if the rule of lenity applied, the order must be construed so that it cannot include the outliers of the Varel property. The HSC reversed the judgment because there was insufficient evidence that Varel had actually violated the injunction order.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

ICA: We Mean it When we Say Exigency

State v. Ramos-Saunders (ICA April 23, 2015)
Background. Koalaukani Ramos-Saunders was indicted with commercial promotion of marijuana in the first degree and unlawful use of drug paraphernalia. Ramos-Saunders moved to suppress all evidence resulting from a warrantless search of the residence.

One morning, the Honolulu Police Department received a “dropped 911 call” from a number registered to Walter Rosskopf listed at a housing unit—Unit B at an address off of Kamehameha Highway. Two officers went to the address and arrived to Unit B. There, they talked to a woman named Paula Burgess. She told them that he used to live in Unit B, but he moved to Unit A. She added that he had prostate cancer. The Units are two stand-alone residences separated by about 750 feet. The officers moved way from Unit B and went to Unit A. They found no one in Unit A.

As they walked around the residence the officers thought they saw the barrel of a firearm with a silencer. The residence was also in “disarray” with a glass sliding door open, the air-conditioner unit was running, and the lights were on. No one was there. The officers called for reinforcements. The officers decided to go into the residence without a warrant. Once inside they found an indoor grow operation. Somehow (the ICA does not explain it) Koalaukani Ramos-Saunders was linked to the operation. Ramos-Saunders moved to suppress the evidence found in the residence. The motion was granted by Judge Glenn J. Kim. The prosecution appealed.

Search and Seizure: the Basics (Since it’s been a while). “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated[.]” U.S. Const. Am. IV. Article I, Section 7 of the Hawaii Constitution has a similar right, but it also includes protection against “unreasonable invasions of privacy.” When the government—like the police—enter a home without a warrant, the search inside is presumptively unreasonable. That means that “the prosecution has the burden of overcoming the initial presumption of unreasonableness by proving that the search falls within one of the well-recognized and narrowly-defined exceptions to the general warrant requirement.” State v. Lopez, 78 Hawaii 433, 443, 896 P.2d 889, 899 (1995).

The prosecution contended that the exigency exception justified the warrantless search, which allows the police to search when the prosecution can show “probable cause to search and exigent circumstances exist necessitating immediate police action.” State v. Pulse, 83 Hawaii 229, 245, 925 P.2d 797, 813 (1996).

How Exigent does it have to be? Pretty Exigent. Exigency arises when “the demands of the occasion reasonably call for an immediate police response. More specifically, it includes situations presenting an immediate danger to life or serious injury or an immediate threatened removal or destruction of evidence.” State v. Jenkins, 93 Hawaii 87, 103, 997 P.2d 13, 29 (2000).

The ICA rejected the prosecution’s exigency claim. The police received a drop call. When they arrived to the scene they learned that the phone number belonged to a man with prostate cancer had moved to Unit A. That was all. According to the ICA, there was no indication that anyone needed immediate police assistance. There was nothing to give the police anything to think that there was an immediate danger to life, limb, injury, or the destruction of evidence. Even when they saw that Unit A was in disarray and saw a gun there was no immediacy. No one was around. The ICA was very clear that the mere presence of a gun and a silencer did not create an exigent circumstance. See State v. Meyer, 78 Hawaii 308, 314, 893 P.2d 159, 163 (1995) (“no amount of probable cause can justify a warrantless search or seizure absent ‘exigent circumstances.’”). The ICA affirmed the suppression.

Turning Down the “Emergency Aid” Exception. In the process of rejecting the prosecution’s claim, the ICA declined an extension of the exigency exception. Federal courts interpreting the Fourth Amendment have recognized exigency when the demands of the situation reasonably call for an immediate police response; including those situations where a person requires emergency aid. Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 48 (2009); Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398 (2006).

The ICA noted that Hawaii courts have never extended exigency that far. “Article I, section 7 of the Hawaii Constitution affords the people of this state greater protection than does the fourth amendment of the United States Constitution.” State v. Tuua, 98 Hawaii 426, 449, 49 P.3d 1227, 1250 (2002).

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Confrontation Clause Can’t Stop (Certain) Affidavits of Records Custodians

Background. Ubaldo Cruz was on trial for allegedly committing multiple sexual assaults on his neighbor’s daughter. At trial, Cruz objected to the admission of cell phone records over a three-month period. The circuit court denied the request, but ruled that a failure to call the custodian of records to testify at trial was a violation of Cruz’s constitutional right to confront witnesses. The next day, the prosecution sought to introduce the records with a certified copy of a declaration from the custodian of records on the grounds that they met the business records exception to the hearsay rule. The prosecutor argued that business records “are specifically excluded under Crawford.” The circuit court admitted the records, Cruz was found guilty. Cruz appealed.

The Confrontation Clause and Documents. The Confrontation Clause prohibits the use of “testimonial” statements at trial when the declarant is not present and there was no meaningful opportunity to testify. Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 51-52 (2004). A statement is “testimonial” when it was made “under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial[.]” Id. The rule in Crawford applies to documents too.

The business-record exception to the hearsay rule does not trump the Confrontation Clause. Even when there is a regularly-produced document that would be made in the normal course of business, the Confrontation Clause would prohibit its use at trial if the business was producing evidence at trial. Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305, 321-22 (2009). For example, certificates of analysis by scientists who determine whether a substance seized as evidence by the police is in fact a narcotic would be testimonial. Id.

But that doesn’t mean all records are prohibited. “Business and public records are generally admissible . . . not because they qualify under an exception to the hearsay rules, but because—having been created for the administration of an entity’s affairs and not for the purpose of establishing or proving some fact at trial—they are not testimonial.” Id. at 324.

The Confrontation Clause will not Prohibit Certain Affidavits from a Custodian of Records. The ICA held that the affidavit from the custodian of records at phone company was not barred by the Confrontation Clause. Here’s the affidavit:

            I, Dominick Kaserkie, hereby declare and affirm based on information and belief that the following is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge:
1.       I am employed at T-Mobile USA, Inc., in the Law Enforcement Relations Group.
2.      My duties include acting as a “custodian of records” on behalf of T-Mobile USA, Inc.
3.      I am authorized to represent T-Mobile USA, Inc., for purposes of this proceeding.
4.      T-Mobile USA, Inc. maintains records relating to T-Mobile USA, Inc. subscribers.
5.      These records include identifying information such as the name of the subscriber assigned to a specific telephone number and call logs for a subscriber’s telephone number documenting both incoming and outgoing calls made by a T-Mobile USA, Inc. subscriber.
6.      These records are made and kept in the regular course of business at T-Mobile USA, Inc.
7.      These records are generated at or near the time that a T-Mobile subscriber uses his cellular phone to make or receive telephone calls.
8.      These records are generated and maintained by employees of T-Mobile USA, Inc.
9.      As part of my job, I have access to, and custody of, these records.
10.   Pursuant to a subpoena, I retrieved true and accurate copies of T-Mobile subscriber information associated with MSISDN [Cruz’s cell number].
11.    T-Mobile USA, Inc. subsequently turned over a copy of these records to the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office on January 14, 2010.
12.   The records provided to the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office consist of a true and accurate copy of the records . . . .
13.   These records are kept in the course of regularly conducted activity at T-Mobile USA, Inc.; they are made at or near the time of the acts or events described therein; and they are made as part of the regular practice of T-Mobile USA, Inc.

The Difference Between T-Mobile and a Crime Lab. According to the ICA, this affidavit is not testimonial and the Confrontation Clause does not prohibit its admission. But if the test for a testimonial statement is looking to the circumstances and determining if it is reasonable to think that the statement would be used at trial, wouldn’t this be it? After all, this is a custom-made declaration from the custodian of records at the “Law Enforcement Relations Group” who turned over documents to the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office. Perhaps the actual records—the call logs or the raw materials usually attached to these kinds of declarations—are not testimonial. But this statement suggests it was not part of the regular course of business. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fleshing out when you can use Preliminary Hearing Testimony at Trial

State v. Nofoa (HSC April 14, 2015)
Background. Toi Nofoa was charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of terroristc threatening in the second degree. In September 2008, Nofoa was held by a judicial determination of probable cause. Attached to the JDPC was an affidavit from an HPD officer that containing hearsay statements from the CW, Nofoa’s girlfriend. Nofoa had a preliminary hearing.

At the preliminary hearing, the CW testified that she was in a relationship with Nofoa for about two and half years, and she ended it. She testified that about a month after the breakup, Nofoa called and asked if she was “seeing another guy.” She said it was none of his business. That night Nofoa approached her as she was walking back to her car. The CW said that he wanted to talk to her and she started walking with him. She said he started to get aggressive and then pulled her. As she tried to walk away, he put her in a chokehold, said that he had a gun, and told her to get into the car. She did. They drove to the North Shore and stopped at a gas station in Haleiwa to buy alcohol. Nofoa went into the shop and the CW got out and whispered to a man working there to call the police for help. Nofoa saw her and picked her up and put her back in the car. The CW started yelling and screaming. The workers at the store told Nofoa to leave her alone and eventually he released her and he drove off. The police showed up ten minutes later. Nofoa’s counsel cross-examined the CW for about twenty-one pages on the transcript. The district court and the prosecutor did not interrupt the cross-examination. Nofoa was bound over.

About six months later, Nofoa was arrested and charged with the murder of CW. Nofoa took the murder case to trial and was acquitted.

The prosecution for the kidnapping and the TT1 followed the acquittal. Before trial, the prosecution filed a notice of intent to use the CW’s preliminary hearing testimony on the grounds that she was unavailable for trial. Nofoa opposed on the grounds that the hearing offered an insufficient opportunity to cross-examine the CW. Nofoa argued that at the time of the preliminary hearing, the discovery disclosures were incomplete. The prosecution had not disclosed a three-page written statement by the CW, a recorded interview of the CW, and a five-page police report with another statement of the CW. Nofoa did not have access to the 911 call made from the gas station either.  On top of that Nofoa argued that the purpose of the prelim is to determine probable cause, and it cannot be used at trial. The circuit court rejected Nofoa’s arguments and allowed the prosecution to use the testimony.

At trial, the court warned counsel that there would be no references to CW’s death. At the end of the trial, during his closing argument, Nofoa’s lawyer argued that it had to determine whether the CW or Nofoa was telling the truth. He told the jury that it could not find the CW credible because they know nothing about her:

[W]hat do we know about CW? What do we know about her credibility? Okay. We know what kind of car she drives. We know she got a new boyfriend a month after she broke up her . . . two and a half year, long-term relationship broke up. That’s about all we know.

Okay. Because you don’t know anything about her and her credibility, the only thing that you can do to judge her credibility is to compare her story to any other evidence presented in the trial. That’s the only thing you can do, because you didn’t get to see, hear, you know, like you did with [Nofoa].

The circuit court interrupted the argument and at a bench conference said that counsel had opened the door. The circuit court said that the remedy at that point was the inform the jury that the CW was dead. Over Nofoa’s objection and denying his request for a curative instruction, the circuit court allowed the prosecution to tell the jurors that the CW was dead during rebuttal. The prosecution did just that and then immediately alluded to the CW’s preliminary hearing testimony about Nofoa using a gun to threaten her. The jury found Nofoa guilty and the circuit court sentenced him to prison for 20 years concurrently. The ICA affirmed.

The Odd Issue of Judicial Bias. The HSC first confronted the curious problem of identifying the issue on appeal. A trial judge has broad discretion to control the scope of a closing argument. State v. Adams, 61 Haw. 233, 234, 602 P.2d 520, 521 (1979). But the judge can abuse its discretion at some point in determining the scope of argument. The HSC held that the circuit court abused its discretion in allowing the prosecution to refer to facts that were not in evidence. The HSC relied on a line of cases in which prosecutors commit misconduct when he or she refers to facts that were never adduced by the evidence at trial. State v. Tuua, 125 Hawaii 10, 14, 250 P.3d 273, 277 (2011); State v. Basham, 132 Hawaii 97, 114-15, 319 P.3d 1105, 1122-23 (2014). In this case, the circuit court essentially instructed the prosecutor to engage in misconduct. This isn’t the prosecutor’s fault, but was an abuse of discretion on the part of the circuit court. Nor is the issue harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The HSC held that there was a reasonable possibility that this last-minute reference to the death of the CW contributed to the conviction.

What if the Circuit Court Re-Opened Trial to Allow Evidence of the Death? Does the analysis hinge on the fact that the CW’s death was not in evidence? What if the prosecutor stood up after closing and sought judicial notice or asked to reopen the trial to present evidence of the CW’s death? Would that have solved the problem?

When you get to use Prior Testimony at Trial. The defendant has the right to confront witnesses at trial. Haw. Const. Art. I, Sec. 14; U.S. Const. Am. VI. Out-of-court statements are barred by the confrontation clause unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 59 (2004). Once the declarant is deemed unavailable, the statement does not offend the Hawaii confrontation clause “only if the defendant was afforded a prior opportunity to cross-examine the absent declarant about the statement.” State v. Fields, 115 Hawaii 503, 516, 168 P.3d 955, 968 (2007). This has to be a “meaningful opportunity” to cross. Id. at 528, 168 P.3d at 980.

Putting Meaning in “Meaningful.” Here, there’s no question that at the time of trial, the CW was unavailable. She’s dead. The real question was whether the cross at the prelim was a “meaningful opportunity” that would not offend the Confrontation Clauses. The HSC noted that the use of preliminary hearing at a  trial depends in large part on the discovery that was available at the time and the restrictions imposed by the trial court at the preliminary hearing. See State v. Faafiti, 54 Haw. 637, 641, 513 P.2d 697, 701 (1973); Toledo v. Lam, 67 Haw. 20, 22, 675 P.2d 773, 775 (1984). The HSC also looked to cases from other jurisdictions and declined to adopt a bright-line rule that would have banned the use of any and all preliminary hearing testimony.

Depends on the Case. Instead, the HSC adopted a case-by-case approach and emphasized three factors:
[I]n order to determine whether Nofoa had a sufficient and meaningful opportunity for cross-examination at the preliminary hearing, we consider the following factors: 1) the motive and purpose of the cross-examination, 2) whether any restrictions were placed on Nofoa’s cross-examination during the preliminary hearing, and 3) whether Nofoa had access to sufficient discovery at trial to allow for effective cross-examination of CW.

According to the HSC, the first two factors pointed toward admissibility. Nofoa’s motive was to discredit the CW at the preliminary hearing. This was significantly similar to the motive at trial—discredit the CW’s credibility. Secondly, there appeared to be no real restriction on the cross-examination of 21 pages of testimony.

The third factor, however, was strong enough to weigh against admissibility. Nofoa did not have access to all of the discovery that would have assisted him in crossing the CW. The only materials it had was the JDPC and the complaint. Nofoa lacked the CW’s multiple statements, the recorded interview, and a police report with memorializing an oral statement. Moreover, there were real discrepancies in these statements. This amounted to a deprivation of a meaningful opportunity to cross-examine the CW and the preliminary hearing testimony should never have been admitted at trial.

The 911 Call was Admissible. The HSC rejected Nofoa’s claim that the 911 recording from the gas station should never had been admitted. An excited utterance is a hearsay exception. HRE Rule 803(b)(2). To meet this exception, the proponent must show that “(1) a startling event or condition occurred; (2) the statement was made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition; and (3) the statement relates to the startling report or condition.” State v. Machado, 109 Hawaii 445, 451, 127 P.3d 941, 947 (2006). Nofoa claims that the prosecution failed the second prong. The HSC disagreed. The statement was not the product of reflective thought and was adequately part of the startling event.

And not Prohibited by the Confrontation Clause. The HSC also rejected Nofoa’s claim that the statement in the 911 call violated the Confrontation Clause. The Confrontation Clause only prohibits the admission of “testimonial” statements. State v. Fields, 115 Hawaii at 516, 168 P.3d at 968. A statement is “nontestimonial” when “made in the course of police interrogation under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.” Id. Testimonial, however, is a statement that is not given during an emergency and its primary purpose “is to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.” Id. According to the HSC, the CW’s statement in the 911 call was clearly non-testimonial because “any reasonable listener” would figure she “was facing an ongoing emergency.” Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813, 827 (2006).

Now that the statement is non-testimonial, the two-part test in Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56 (1980), determines its admissibility. The non-testimonial, out-of-court statement is admissible when (1) the declarant is unavailable and (2) the statement “bears some indicia of reliability.” Fields, 115 Hawaii at 528, 168 P.3d at 980. Again, the CW is unavailable/dead. Secondly the statement is reliable because it falls within a firmly-rooted hearsay exception. See State v. Sua, 92 Hawaii 61, 71, 987 P.2d 959, 969 (1999).

Is an Excited Utterance Always Going to be Non-Testimonial? This last part on the 911 test is a perfect example of the flow-chart analysis set up in Fields. It took a while, but we finally get to see it at work. And stepping back, if the HSC has already held that it is an excited utterance, wouldn’t it be extremely difficult to do an about-face and hold that this excited utterance is testimonial (i.e., a reasoned statement that was not in the face of an emergency)?

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?