HSC Gets Serious About Waiving Trial Rights

State v. Baker (HSC January 27, 2014)
Background. Kaolino Richard Baker was charged with a single count of abuse of family or household member. HRS § 709-909. The incident involved his ex-girlfriend. At a pretrial hearing, Baker’s lawyer said that he signed a “waiver of jury trial” form. The form stated that Baker had a series of numbered paragraphs all of which were initialed except for the one stating that he was “entering this waiver of my own free will after careful consideration. No promises or threats have been made to me to induce me to waive my right to a jury trial.” He did, however, sign the form and it was certified by counsel that counsel went over all of the contents of the form and that counsel believed that it was signed voluntarily and intelligently. The family court conducted a colloquy, but failed to ask Baker about whether his decision to waive the right to a jury trial was voluntary. After the colloquy, Baker signed the form a second time certifying that the judge questioned him in open court “to make sure that I knew what I was doing and understood this form before I signed it.”

After a bench trial, the family court found Baker guilty and sentenced him to probation for two years, including 30 days jail. Baker appealed. The ICA affirmed.

Trial By Jury is Kind of a Big Deal. “Trial by jury is considered fundamental to our system of criminal justice.” State v. Pokini, 55 Haw. 640, 656, 526 P.2d 94, 108 (1974). Here in Hawaii, trial by jury generally applies when the potential penalty for the charged offense is six months or more. HRS § 806-60. Baker had a right to a jury trial because the potential penalty for abuse of a family or household member could lead to a year in jail.

In these cases, the trial court at arraignment must inform the defendant about the right to a jury trial and inform the defendant that he or she “may elect to be tried without a jury in the district court.” HRPP Rule 5(b)(1). This right—like almost all others—can be waived, but it must be “in writing or orally in open court.” State v. Ibuos, 75 Haw. 118, 121, 857 P.2d 576, 578 (1993). The waiver is the “knowing, intelligent, and voluntary relinquishment of a known right.” State v. Friedman, 93 Hawaii 63, 69, 996 P.2d 268, 274 (2000). Waiver is reviewed on a totality of the circumstances and must be approved by the trial court. HRPP Rule 23(a).

Trial Court has the Duty to Ensure a Proper Waiver of Rights. Approving of the waiver of a right is a “serious and weighty responsibility.” United States v. Saadya, 750 F.2d 1419, 1421 (9th Cir. 1985). In Hawaii, trial courts must engage in an on-the-record colloquy with the defendant to carry out this serious and weighty duty. State v. Gomez-Lobato, 130 Hawaii 465,__, 312 P.3d 897, 901 (2013). Here, there was nothing in the record indicating that Baker voluntarily waived his jury trial right. Both the colloquy and the waiver form failed to show that Baker understood that his waiver has to be of his own free will or that no one put pressure on him or that it was simply voluntarily given. This was enough to vacate the judgment and remand for a new trial.

Justice Acoba’s Concurrence. Justice Acoba agreed that the failure to ensure that the waiver of this right was voluntarily given requires a new trial. He wrote separately to note that the colloquy and the form should also include informing Baker that (1) twelve members from the community compose a jury; (2) the defendant may take part in the jury selection; (3) a jury verdict must be unanimous; and (4) the court alone decides “guilt or innocence” if the defendant waives a jury trial. See Gomez-Lobato, 130 Hawaii 465, __, 312P.3d 897, 905 (2013) (Acoba, J., concurring).

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