Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Defective Complaint is Not a Jurisdictional Defect

State v. Kam (ICA November 26, 2014)
Background. Cierra Ann Kam was charged as a repeat offender of operating a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant and operating a vehicle after her license to drive was suspended or revoked for OUI. The complaint failed to allege the required mens rea for each count.

After the complaint was filed, the HSC handed down State v. Nesmith, 127 Hawaii 48, 276 P.3d 617 (2012). The HSC held that the portion of the complaint alleging OUI by way of facts (HRS § 291E-61(a)(1)) required the “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” mens rea. Id. at 54, 56, 61, 276 P.3d at 623, 625, 630.

In the wake of Nesmith, the prosecution moved to amend the complaint. Kam opposed on the grounds that the defect in charging the complaint was a jurisdictional one that required dismissal of the case all together. The district court granted the motion and the amended complaint was served on Kam. Kam acknowledged receipt and pleaded not guilty. Kam was found guilty after a stipulated facts trial and Kam appealed.

Footnote Schmootnote. Kam argued that the district court erred in granting the motion to amend. Kam depends on a footnote from the HSC in an unpublished summary disposition order from State v. Castro:

The State has proposed amending pending HRS § 291E-61(a)(1) charges pursuant to Hawaii Rules of Penal Procedure Rule 7(f)(1) post-Nesmith, but Nesmith makes it clear that the remedy for the deficient HRS § 291E-61(a)(1) charges is dismissal without prejudice.

The ICA disagreed and ignored the footnote.

Unpublished Decisions Carry no Precedential Weight. “Memorandum opinions and unpublished dispositional orders are not precedent[.]” Hawaii Rules of Appellate Procedure Rule 35(c)(2). Thus, the footnote was not controlling for the ICA and it was free to decide the case without consideration of the footnote.

So Is it Jurisdictional? The ICA also noted that the Castro footnote was undermined by a more recent published case from the HSC. State v. Davis, 133 Hawaii 102, 324 P.3d 912 (2014). In that case, according to the ICA, the HSC found the charge defective, but instead of ordering dismissal without prejudice, the HSC addressed Davis’s claim of insufficient evidence. Id. at 120, 324 P.3d at 930. According to the ICA, logic suggests that in order to do such a thing, the defect is not a jurisdictional one.

HRPP Rule 7 Applies over the Footnote. Instead of relying on the Castro footnote, the ICA held that the district court was free to apply HRPP Rule 7(f)(1), which affords the court discretion to allow the prosecution to amend charges before trial so long as “substantial rights of the defendant are not prejudiced.” Kam did not claim prejudice for failing to allege mens rea.

Sufficient Evidence Established to Uphold the Repeat Offender Provision. The ICA moved on to hold that even though no certified judgments were used to prove the prior conviction, none were required. The traffic abstracts were sufficient for the ICA.

What if there was No Challenge to Sufficient Evidence? In State v. Davis, the HSC held that Hawaii’s double jeopardy clause requires the appellate court “to address a defendants express claim of insufficiency of the evidence prior to remanding for a new trial based on a defective charge.” The HSC was concerned about cases getting retried when there had been insufficient evidence to convict in the first place. Such a situation would violate the Double Jeopardy Clause under the Hawaii Constitution.

From that case, the ICA here has extrapolated that the defect in the charge is not a jurisdictional defect requiring prompt remand and dismissal. Perhaps.


But what would happen if you had a defective charge, but sufficient evidence to convict? Shouldn’t the remedy be remand for dismissal and the opportunity for the prosecution to recharge? And in such a situation, the prosecution could then properly charge the defendant? Or would the prosecution simply move to amend the charging document once it is remanded to the trial court? Is that the proper remedy? In light of this case, it would seem so.

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