Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Hawaii
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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction of attempted murder in the second degree arising from the stabbing of Defendant's friend, holding that the jury's discovery of "stains" during an improper examination of Defendant's clothing to search for evidence of blood during deliberations was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. During deliberations, the jurors requested scissors to cut open the packaging containing Defendant's clothing, and three of the jurors examined the clothing for blood. The jurors found small spots on the inside of the pants and determined that the spots must be blood. The stains had not been introduced as evidence during trial. The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction, holding that the jurors' discovery of the stains constituted an outside influence that may have tainted the jury's impartiality, and the jury's exposure to the stains was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Pitts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming Defendant's conviction and sentence, holding that the deputy prosecuting attorney (DPA) improperly referenced a pathologist's testimony as a defense expert in two of the most well-publicized murder trials in Hawai'i within the last decade, which affected Defendant's substantial right to a fair trial. Defendant was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to twenty years of incarceration. On appeal, Defendant challenged the DPA's cross-examination of James Navin, N.D., who had testified in the murder trials involving Kirk Lankford and Matthew Higa, and closing arguments about that testimony. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment on appeal and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the DPA committed misconduct in referencing Navin's testimony, and the error deprived Defendant of her right to a fair trial. View "State v. Udo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the circuit court modifying and affirming the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals, which affirmed the decision of the Director of the City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting approving an application for a Waikiki Special District (WSD) permit for PACREP to develop the second phase of a condo-hotel at 2139 Kuhio Avenue, holding that, under the circumstances, the due process rights of Local 5, a union representing hotel and restaurant employees, were violated. In appealing the permit, Local 5 argued that the Director abused his discretion by approving the permit without certain restrictive covenant conditions. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that, when the Director removed certain conditions from a WSD permit for the first phase of the condo-hotel project, conditions he knew Local 5 had advocated for, Local 5 should have had an opportunity challenge the removal of those conditions from the permit. Because Local 5 did not receive notice that the Director had removed these conditions, Local 5's due process rights were violated. View "Unite Here! Local 5 v. Department of Planning & Permitting/Zoning Board of Appeals" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) reversing the judgment of the circuit court granting Defendant's motion to suppress evidence gathered from a search of Defendant's residence, holding that the ICA erred in not accepting the circuit court's findings of fact and in concluding that the particularity requirement was satisfied. As the basis for his motion to suppress Defendant argued that the search warrant did not state with specificity the subunit of the multiple-occupancy building he resided in. The circuit court concluded that the search warrant did not describe Defendant's subunit with particularity and that the search violated Defendant's constitutional rights. The ICA reversed, holding that there residence was not a multiple-occupancy building. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the warrant was invalid because it did not particularly describe Defendant's unit; and (2) the search violated Defendant's constitutional rights. View "State v. Rodrigues" on Justia Law

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In this criminal case, the Supreme Court vacated the sentence set forth in the circuit court judgment and affirmed by the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) and otherwise affirmed the lower courts' judgments, holding that the State violated Defendant's due process rights. Defendant was convicted of four offenses. The ICA vacated three of the convictions. On remand, the State was given the option of either retrying Defendant on the charges underlying three convictions vacated by the appellate court or dismissing two of those charges and having the trial court reinstate the conviction on the remaining charge. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the three counts, arguing that Hawai'i Rules of Penal Procedure (HRPP) Rule 48 (b)(3) had been violated. The circuit court denied the motion. The State failed to disclose which two of the three charges would be dismissed before Defendant exercised the right of allocution at sentencing. Defendant was subsequently resentenced. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the sentence, holding ((1) the ICA correctly concluded that the circuit court did not err by denying Defendant's motion to dismiss for violation of Rule 48(b)(3); but (2) Defendant's right of allocution was violated by the court’s failure to require timely disclosure of the offense for which Defendant would be sentenced. View "State v. Carlton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the trial court erred in determining that Defendant's confession was voluntarily made despite an interrogating officer informing him, untruthfully, that he did not pass a polygraph test, holding the deliberate falsehood regarding the polygraph results impermissibly tainted Defendant's confession. The trial court admitted Defendant's confession into evidence over defense objection. The court further ruled that during Defendant's trial testimony, when discussing the circumstances of his confession, could not mention the words "polygraph" or "test" or that the interrogating officer gave him inaccurate test results before his confession was elicited. The Supreme Court vacated the conviction, holding (1) the admission of Defendant's confession was not harmless error; (2) the exclusion of evidence of the circumstances surrounding the eliciting of Defendant's confession severely compromised Defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial and to present a complete defense; and (3) the court's jury instruction that defined an element of the charged offense contained a misstatement of law and was ambiguous and incomplete. View "State v. Matsumoto" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the admissibility of a suggestive eyewitness or show-up identification, the Supreme Court set forth new rules and because the holdings apply only prospectively to events occurring after publication of this decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming Defendant's conviction. Defendant was charged with one count of burglary in the first degree. Before trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress a witness's show-up identification. The State stipulated that the procedure employed by the police department was impermissibly suggestive, but the circuit court nonetheless denied the motion, finding the witness's identification sufficiently reliable. The jury then found Defendant guilty as charged. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed but set forth new rules in this opinion regarding whether an eyewitness identification procured through an impermissibly suggestive procedure is nonetheless sufficiently reliable under the totality of the circumstances to be admitted in evidence. View "State v. Kaneaikala" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction for assault in the second degree, holding that Defendant's constitutional right to confrontation was violated when the circuit court refused to allow cross-examination of the complaining witness on topics relevant to her bias, interest, or motive for testifying against Defendant, and the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred in refusing to allow him to cross-examine the complaining witness regarding her pending misdemeanor assault charge arising from the same incident for which Defendant was charged, as well as her probation status resulting from a separate assault charge. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Defendant's constitutional right to confront witnesses was violated, and because the exclusion of the information might have contributed to the jury's decision to convict, the violation of Defendant's right to confrontation was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) vacating the circuit court's order granting Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to seize Defendant while he was lying next to the beach in Waikiki. Defendant was approached by police officers while he was lying on a concrete slab adjacent to an apartment complex on Waikiki beach. After an officer asked Defendant to provide his identification and Defendant provided a Veterans Affairs medical card to the officer, the officer noticed Defendant was grasping something in his backpack. An officer pulled the bag from Defendant, and a collapsible baton fell out of the backpack. Defendant grabbed the baton and held it up as if to brandish it, but the police officers wrested control of the baton away from Defendant and arrested him. Defendant was charged with one count of carrying a deadly weapon. The circuit court granted Defendant's motion to suppress evidence of the baton. The ICA vacated the circuit court's order, concluding that the seizure was incident to a valid weapons search. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the police violated Defendant's constitutional rights by approaching him, asking for his identification, and seizing his backpack. View "State v. Weldon" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant, holding that the district court erroneously advised Defendant with regard to his right to testify in the context of a consolidated suppression hearing and trial. After he was charged, Defendant filed a motion to suppress statements he allegedly made to the police officer who arrested him. The district court consolidated the hearing on Defendant's motion to suppress with his bench trial and provided Defendant with several advisements about his right to testify. Defendant declined to testify, and the district court granted the motion to suppress in part. The court then found Defendant guilty. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that Defendant did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his right to testify for the purposes of the pre-trial suppression hearing. View "State v. Chang" on Justia Law