Monday, June 29, 2009

Excessive Speeding Statute's Sentencing Provision Leaves Nothing to Discretion of Sentencing Courts.

State v. Nakamura (ICA June 29, 2009)

Background. Nakamura pleaded guilty to a single count of excessive speeding (HRS § 291C-105). Nakamura agreed to, pursuant to the district court's "suggestion," a six-month license suspension among other things like a fine and community service. The district court sentenced him pursuant to the suggested agreement. Nakamura later filed a motion to correct his illegal sentence on the grounds that the suspension period was improper. Nakamura maintained that the suspension period should have been 30 days. The motion was granted in part. The district court imposed a 30-day suspension running concurrently with the original six-month suspension. Nakamura appealed.

Discretionary Authority to Suspend License Superseded by Specific Excessive Speeding Statute. Nakamura pleaded guilty to excessive speeding. A person violating the excessive speeding statute for the first time "shall be sentenced as follows . . . [t]hirty-day prompt suspension of license and privilege to operate a vehicle during the suspension period[.]" HRS § 291C-105(c)(1)(B). However, "any court of competent jurisdiction may, in its discretion, revoke or suspend the license of any driver . . . convicted of a violation of this part or of any traffic law or regulation of the State or any political subdivision thereof involving a vehicle in motion." HRS § 286-125. The ICA agreed with Nakamura and held that the district court could not suspend Nakamura's license beyond the period provided by the excessive speeding statute.

The ICA pointed out that a person violating the excessive speeding statute "shall be sentenced" in the manner provided by HRS § 291C-105. HRS § 286-125, on the other hand, affords sentencing courts the discretion to suspend a license for offenses involving motor vehicles. The discretion afforded by HRS § 286-125 cannot, according to the ICA, empower the sentencing court set a suspension period in addition to mandatory sentencing suspension under HRS § 291C-105. Put differently, the excessive speeding statute carried with it mandatory sentencing impositions which deprived the sentencing court of the ability to modify the suspended license provision.

Agreed-upon Sentences Still must be Corrected. Nakamura agreed to the six-month sentence even though he later argued to the district court that his sentence was unlawful. The ICA noted that Nakamura's agreement did not waive his ability to later challenge the legality of his sentence. "[A] sentence which does not conform to statutory sentencing provisions, either in character or the extent of the punishment imposed, is void." State v. Sequeria, 93 Hawai'i 34, 36, 995 P.2d 335, 337 (App. 2007); see also State v. March, 94 Hawai'i 250, 254, 11 P.3d 1094, 1098 (2000) ("Although the sentencing court is given broad discretion in sentencing defendants, the sentence imposed must be authorized by statute.").

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