State v. Klie (HSC December 27, 2007)
Background. Klie was charged with soliciting $ex in the Waikiki area in violation of HRS § 712-1207(1) in the district court. Klie pleaded no contest. The district court accepted his plea. Klie then moved for a deferred acceptance of a no-contest plea (DANC) purs. to HRS § 853-1. The court agreed with the State that the statute did not afford the court any discretion in giving a DANC and denied Klie’s motion.
DAG-nabbit!! Generally, courts can grant a DANC or DAG when (1) the defendant pleads no contest or guilty and (2) when the ct. concludes either that the defendant isn’t likely to engage in further criminal conduct and the “ends of justice and welfare of society do not require that the defendant presently suffer the penalty[.]” State v. Sakamoto, 101 Hawai’i 409, 412, 70 P.3d 635, 638 (2003). HRS § 853-4 provides that offenses that are not subject to probation are an exception to the general rule.
HRS § 712-1207 provides specific sentencing options and procedures. Violations of this statute require a mandatory thirty-day term of imprisonment. HRS 712-1207(5), however, allows the court to place a defendant on probation for up to a 6-mo. pd. “[a]s an option to the mandatory term of imprisonment[.]” The HSC therefore rejected the State’s argument that HRS § 712-1207 is a statutory scheme of enhanced sentencing, and concluded that the “option” of probation was one of two alternatives w/in the discretion of the district court. Thus, it was an abuse of discretion for the dist. ct. to conclude that it did not have the power to accept Klie’s DANC.
The error of the district court was not that it failed to accept the DANC, but rather it positively concluded that it had no power to do so. The discretion is left with the court to accept it. It must make findings under the general rule. In this case, the dist. court even stated that Klie had no prior record and but for this unfortunate incident in Waikiki, he was a model citizen. Of course, there are many citizens appearing in the dist. ct. who are far from model ones. For their DANC-ability, we leave that for the discretion of the court.
We Don't Need No Education. The HSC also found the State’s reliance on the legislative history unfounded. The HSC made it crystal clear that courts must not examine legislative intent where the language is plain and unambiguous. This canon of statutory interpretation is certainly not a novel one. Nevertheless, the HSC reaffirmed—one might even argue that it revived—this long-held canon of construction. Legislative intent may be useful, but here the HSC makes it very clear that it can only be used when the language of the statute fails. This certainly limits a lawyer’s ability to look to the committee reports or various testimonies behind a particular law. And rightfully so. Legislative history is a tool for interpreting a statute. When the statute clearly speaks to the particular issue in a case, there is no need for such a tool and it should be disregarded.