Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Hawaii Supreme Court

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Defendant entered a conditional no contest plea to operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant (OVUII). The district court convicted Defendant over OVUII under Haw. Rev. Stat. 291E-61(a)(1) and (a)(3). Defendant conditioned his plea on his ability to appeal his contention that the charge was defective because it did not allege a state of mind. Defendant's written submission of plea form, however, contained a conditional plea only to the section 291E-61(a)(1) method of proof. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) vacated Defendant's convictions as to both section 291E-61(a)(1) and (a)(3) but determined that, on remand, the State could proceed to prosecute Defendant under the section 291E-61(a)(3) method of proof. The Supreme Court affirmed the ICA's judgment vacating the district court's judgment but directed that, on remand, the state was precluded from prosecuting Defendant under the section 291E-61(a)(3) method of proof, as, in the circumstances presented in this case, permitting the State to proceed with prosecution under section 291E-61(a)(3) would constitute a breach of the plea agreement in violation of Defendant's due process rights. Remanded. View "State v. Nakano" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, residents of Maui, challenged the Maui County Council's (MCC) passage of two bills related to the development of a residential community on 670 acres of land in Wailea (Wailea 670 project), arguing that MCC and its committee, the Land Use Committee (LUC) failed to satisfy the requirements of the State open meetings law, known as the Sunshine Law. Specifically, Petitioners claimed (1) the recessing and reconvening of two meetings without providing additional notice and opportunity for public oral testimony violated the Sunshine Law; and (2) the circulation of memoranda among the board membership outside a duly noticed meeting violated the Sunshine Law. The circuit court granted judgment in favor of Respondents, MCC, County of Maui, and the land developer. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the LUC and MCC did not violate the Sunshine Law by reconvening the two meetings beyond a single continuance without posting a new agenda and without accepting public oral testimony at every reconvened meeting; and (2) the MCC violated the Sunshine Law by distributing written memoranda among its members outside of a duly noticed meeting, but the violation did not require invalidation of MCC's passage of the Wailea 670 bills. View "Kanahele v. Maui County Council" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of theft in the second degree for allegedly offering to provide legal services and obtaining or exerting control over a retainer check by deception. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in sua sponte failing to instruct the jury on the mistake of fact defense as to her conviction. Defendant cited to State v. Stenger for the proposition that if she was laboring under a mistake of fact that could negate the state of mind necessary to commit theft, the trial court was required sua sponte to instruct the jury on the mistake of fact defense. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) agreed based on Stenger and vacated the conviction. The State appealed, requesting that the Supreme Court overrule Stenger. After clarifying Stenger's holding, the Court reversed the ICA and affirmed Defendant's conviction, holding that the trial court did not plainly err in omitting the mistake of fact jury instruction, as Defendant had not met her initial burden of adducing credible evidence of facts constituting the defense, and those facts were not supplied by the prosecution's witnesses. View "State v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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In dispute in this case was whether Plaintiffs were entitled to attorneys' fees and costs in litigating the underlying case. In the underlying case, Plaintiffs sued the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) and the State, arguing that the State violated its constitutional duty to sufficiently fund DHHS in order to rehabilitate native Hawaiian beneficiaries and that the DHHL breached its obligations to the beneficiaries of trust lands for several reasons. The first issue in the instant case was the extent to which Plaintiffs "prevailed" in the underlying case. The Supreme Court denied Plaintiffs' request for attorneys' fees and costs, holding (1) Plaintiffs prevailed on appeal; (2) Plaintiffs arguably established an entitlement to attorneys' fees under the private attorney general doctrine; but (3) Plaintiffs' request for appellate attorneys' fees was barred by the State's sovereign immunity. View "Nelson v. Hawaiian Homes Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Petitioners executed a promissory note secured on a mortgage on their residence from a California corporation. The mortgage stated that Respondent, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, listed as mortgagee and nominee, held legal title to the interests granted by Petitioners in the mortgage. After Petitioners failed to make payments pursuant to the terms of the note, Respondent, acting as nominee, filed a complaint against Petitioners seeking foreclosure of the mortgage and sale of the property. The circuit court granted Respondent's motion for summary judgment and entered a foreclosure judgment. Petitioners' property was then sold to Respondent. The circuit court confirmed the sale despite Petitioners' assertion that Respondent lacked standing to bring the foreclosure action. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioners were precluded from raising the issue of Respondent's standing where (1) a standing objection is not unique to a confirmation of sale proceeding from which Petitioners appealed; and (2) Petitioners' failure to appeal the foreclosure judgment barred challenges to Respondent's standing under the doctrine of res judicata. View "Mortgage Elec. Registration Sys., Inc. v. Wise" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was charged with abuse of family and household members. Prior to trial, a Korean language interpreter was sworn in to translate the proceedings for Petitioner. During the trial, Petitioner's attorney informed the court Petitioner was not going to testify on his own behalf. Petitioner was subsequently found guilty as charged. Petitioner appealed, claiming that his right to testify was violated because the court's Tachibana colloquy was deficient. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of conviction and sentence, holding (1) under State v. Tachibana, a colloquy between the judge and a defendant involves a verbal exchange in which the judge ascertains the defendant's understanding of his or her rights; (2) here, the advisement by the family court did not adequately ascertain whether Petitioner understood his constitutional right to testify or not to testify; (3) further, Petitioner's need for an interpreter during the trial heightened the necessity for the court to insure Petitioner understood the rights he waived; and (4) the error in this case was not harmless. Remanded. View "State v. Han" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to two counts of methamphetamine trafficking in the second degree in violation of Haw. Rev. Stat. 712-1240.8. The circuit court sentenced Defendant to a concurrent term of imprisonment of five years in both counts as a young adult defendant pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 706-667. The State filed a motion to correct illegal sentence, arguing that the court's decision to sentence Defendant under section 706-667 ran contrary to law. The circuit court denied the order. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) vacated the judgment of conviction and sentence and remanded the case for re-sentencing under section 712-1240.8. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the phrase "notwithstanding...any other law to the contrary" found in the sentencing provision of section 712-1240.8 overrode sentencing under section 706-667 as "contrary." The Supreme Court held that it did not, reversed the ICA's judgment, and affirmed the circuit court's judgment of conviction and sentence and order denying the State's motion to correct illegal sentence. View "State v. Casugay-Badiang" on Justia Law

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Defendant entered into a contract with Complainant for the purpose of remodeling part of Complainant's house. Complainant later discovered Defendant was not a licensed contractor, contrary to Defendant's representations to Complainant. Before the remodeling was completed, Complainant fired Defendant due to a dispute regarding the purchasing of materials. After an investigation, Defendant was charged with theft in the first degree and unlicensed activity. Defendant moved to dismiss the theft charge, which the circuit court denied. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed, determining that there was sufficient evidence for the grand jury to indict Defendant for first-degree theft given his misrepresentation to Complainant that he was an unlicensed contractor, which thereby induced Complainant to enter into a contract and pay Defendant $95,930 before ultimately firing him. The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the circuit court and the ICA, holding that the evidence in this case did not suffice to establish probable cause that Defendant committed theft of property exceeding $20,000 in value because the State did not provide the grand jury with any specific amount of property of which Complainant was allegedly unlawfully deprived. Remanded with instructions to dismiss the charge of theft in the first degree. View "State v. Atwood" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a medical marijuana patient, was arrested for possessing medical marijuana while passing through airport security at Kona International Airport. Defendant was later convicted of promoting a detrimental drug in the third degree. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment and remanded the case to the district court to enter a judgment of acquittal, holding (1) Defendant presented sufficient evidence to trigger a medical marijuana affirmative defense in a stipulated fact trial, in which the parties stipulated that Defendant possessed a valid medical marijuana certificate and that the marijuana he possessed was medical marijuana; and (2) the conflict between a statute that allows medical use of marijuana, including transportation of such marijuana, and another statute that prohibits transportation of medical marijuana through any place open to the public, created an irreconcilable conflict that must be resolved in favor of Defendant. View "State v. Woodhall" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was sentenced to a five-year term of probation for the offenses of promoting a dangerous drug in the third degree and prohibited acts related to drug paraphernalia. The probationary sentence was granted to Petitioner as a first time drug offender pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 706-622.5. The sentence contained several terms and conditions. After the conclusion of Petitioner's probationary period, Petitioner filed a motion for an order of expungement. The circuit court concluded that Petitioner did not qualify for expungement of her felony convictions because, in committing other crimes during her probationary period, she had violated a term of her probation. The Supreme Court vacated the order denying Petitioner's motion, holding (1) for the purposes of expungement of a drug conviction, the requirement that a defendant sentenced to probation under section 706.622.5 has "complied with other terms and conditions" is satisfied if the defendant has completed her probationary term and has been discharged from probation; and (2) under the circumstances of this case, because Petitioner had completed her probation term, she had, in effect, complied with the terms and conditions of probation for purposes of expungement under section 706-622.5. Remanded for entry of an order granting Petitioner's motion. View "State v. Pali" on Justia Law