Saturday, March 21, 2009

HSC Reels in ICA over Inherent Court Powers.

State v. Hinton (HSC March 20, 2009)

Background.  Hinton was first indicted for allegedly touching a girl (sex assault in the 3d. -- HRS § 707-7321(1)(b)).  As the jury deliberated, the jurors informed the trial court that they could not reach a unanimous verdict.  The jury was hopelessly deadlocked and the trial court declared a mistrial.  Hinton moved for a dismissal pursuant to State v. Moriwake, 65 Haw. 47, 647 P.2d 705 (1982).  The trial court granted the motion and the State appealed.

The ICA reversed the trial court's dismissal.  Relying on cases from different jurisdictions, the ICA concluded that separation of powers concerns require that a Moriwake dismissal be used sparingly.  The ICA  held that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the Moriwake motion.  Judge Foley dissented.  Hinton appealed.

Moriwake and the Inherent Power to Dismiss.  The trial court's inherent power "to protect itself; the power to administer justice whether any previous form of remedy has been granted or not; the power to promulgate rules for its practice; and the power to provide process where none exists" allows the court to dismiss a prosecution.  Moriwake, 65 Haw. at 55, 647 P.2d at 712.

In determining whether to exercise that power, the court must balance "the interest of the state against fundamental fairness to a defendant with the added ingredient of the orderly functioning of the court system."  Id. at 56, 647 P.2d at 712.  In striking this balance, the court examines six factors: (1) the severity of the offense; (2) the number of prior mistrials and the circumstances of the jury deliberations therein; (3) the character of the prior trials in terms of length, complexity, and similarity of evidence presented; (4) the likelihood of any substantial difference in another trial; (5) the trial court's own evaluation of the case; and (6) the professional conduct and diligence of counsel, especially the prosecutor.  Id. at 56, 647 P.2d at 712-13.

The Moriwake Framework Subsumes any Separation of Powers Concerns.  The HSC rejected the ICA's current view that separation of powers concerns require that the power to dismiss an indictment be used in rare and unusual cases.  According to the HSC, the Moriwake balancing test rejects the notion that the trial court's discretionary power to dismiss an indictment was limited to "extraordinary situations."  Any separation of powers concerns are subsumed in the six-factored analysis itself.  At oral argument the State conceded this point.

A Scolding?  The HSC held that "by injecting an additional 'separation of powers' analysis, taken from two out-of-state cases, into the Moriwake framework, the ICA acted in contravention of this jurisdiction's case law." In a footnote, the HSC pointed out that the ICA's decision to look to foreign jurisdictions "in the face of controlling Hawai'i law was a departure from this court's precedent, which the ICA is bound to follow."  Robinson v. Ariyoshi, 65 Haw. 641, 653, 658 P.2d 287, 297 (1982).  According to the HSC, the ICA "casts the law in disarray, creating uncertainty for trial courts, the prosecution, and the defense" when it does not follow precedent.

The HSC also noted that the ICA itself was inconsistent when it came to Moriwake by citing to an unpublished disposition in January 2008 where the ICA affirmed a dismissal over Chief Judge Recktenwald's dissent based on similar separation-of-powers concerns.  This, according to the HSC, will simply not do.  In light of the new rule regarding unpublished dispositions, "it is especially important for the ICA to consistently follow precedent, which, in the instant case, it failed to do so."

Applying Moriwake.  The HSC also rejected the ICA's application of the Moriwake framework.  The HSC examined each of the six factors and concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the case.  And so it is clear that the trial court has the inherent power to dismiss a prosecution on Moriwake grounds without prior mistrials.  All of it, of course, is a delicate balance.

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