Saturday, September 1, 2012

Court Stripped of Discretion in Sentencing Meth Traffickers

State v. Casugay-Badiang (ICA August 21, 2012)
Background. Rubin Ikoa Casugay-Badiang was charged with two counts of trafficking methamphetamine in the second degree (HRS § 712-1240.8). Each count carried a penalty of an indeterminate (or open) term of ten years prison, a mandatory minimum term of one to four years, and a fine u to $10,000. He pleaded guilty to both counts. At sentencing, Casugay-Badiang asked the circuit court to impose the lowest possible mandatory minimum: one year. The prosecution agreed. Casugay-Badiang had no prior convictions or even arrests and had admitted that he was selling meth to feed his own drug habit. The circuit court rejected both requests and sentenced Casugay-Badiang as a young offender to an open five with no mandatory minimum under HRS § 706-667.
The circuit court provided a lucid and honest assessment of the issue:
Okay. Um, sometimes, Counsel, the court asks you to indulge the court whether you want to or not. Just by way of editorializing here, you, I look at this PSI [pre-sentence investigation report], this young man was all of 19 years old when he committed these offenses and he only 20 now. He just turned 20 several months ago.
He has absolutely no record. He has no juvie record. He has no adult record. Now he's young, but he has no record, no arrests, nothing, except for this.
And I understand why the legislature did what they did in 2006. They're a political body, and, you know, there's no question that ice was really and still is a scourge on this community. And there were TV reports and lots of media and, you, so they reacted like politicians do.
And I'm not faulting them. But you know, I look at this PSI and I look at this young man and then I look at the fact that they took away all discretion from the court, you know, and they mandated an open ten and a mandatory minimum and a fine and all of this.
And again I say I understand it, but I don't think it's right. Uh, I think that's what the courts are for. I think that's why we should have some discretion, more discretion than they gave us here.
. . . .
The long and the short of it is I'm going to sentence him as a young adult defendant in this case. And I suppose if the prosecutors feel[] strongly enough about this, they'll writ me and then we'll see. Okay. If [t]he supreme court says I can't do it, fine. Obviously I will bow to my superiors on the supreme court. But until they do, that's, uh, that's my analysis of these sections and their interplay.
The prosecution did not object at sentencing. Instead, it filed a motion to correct the sentence the next day on the grounds that sentencing under HRS § 706-667 was impossible pursuant to the restrictive language in the meth trafficking statute, HRS § 712-1240.8(3). The circuit court denied the motion and the prosecution appealed.
Meth Trafficking's Sentence. "Notwithstanding sections 706-620, 706-640, 706-641, 706-660, 706-669 and any other law to the contrary," a person convicted of meth trafficking "shall be sentenced" to the open ten with the mandatory minimum of one to four years, etc. HRS § 712-1240.8(3). The circuit court reasoned that the young offender statute is not among the five enumerated provisions and so it was still applicable. The ICA disagreed.
The court's "foremost obligation is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature, which is to be obtained primarily from the language of the statute itself." State v. Wells, 78 Hawai'i 373, 376, 894 P.2d 70, 73 (1995). When the statute is plain and unambiguous, the court must "give effect to its plain and obvious meaning." Id. Here, the statute is clear: notwithstanding "any other law to the contrary" the open ten, etc. sentence must be imposed. See, e.g., State v. Dannenberg, 74 Haw. 75, 80-81, 837 P.2d 776, 778-79 (1992) (the notwithstanding-any-law-to-the-contrary language in the prostitution statute limited "the discretion of the trial court in sentencing prostitution offenses").
According to the ICA, the plain language as well as the legislative history made it perfectly clear: the sentence for meth traffickers is limited to the provisions in HRS § 712-1240.8(3). Despite Casugay-Badiang's age, clean record, and admitted drug problem, the circuit court could not look elsewhere.
An Interesting Point . . . The ICA held that the language "notwithstanding any law to the contrary" meant that the sentencing court could not sentence a defendant to anything other than what was in HRS § 712-1240.8(3). So what would it mean if the language was not there? The DUI statute, HRS § 291E-61, has a special sentencing section requiring the defendant to take classes, get a substance abuse assessment, et cetera. But the statute does not contain the words "notwithstanding any law to the contrary." Of course, it does state that the defendant "shall be sentenced." Would that mean that the "notwithstanding" phrase is unnecessary? On the other hand, in light of this case and Dannenberg, is a sentence in a DUI case that does not impose the classes, the license suspension, or the substance abuse assessment unlawful? Does the district court have discretion to buck the requirements of HRS § 291E-61(b) because there is no notwithstanding phrase?