Hawaii Supreme Court Ruling Contradicts Criminal Law Practices, Attorney Says

UPDATE(4 p.m. on Friday, September 9)

  • A Sept. 8 ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court could have serious implications for Hawaii’s criminal justice system.
  • In his opinion in State against Obrero, the Hawaii Supreme Court agreed that the state violated HRS § 801-1 by using the Complaint and Preliminary Hearing process to prosecute accused-appellant Richard Obrero for second-degree murder. The court said the law made it clear that the defendants could not be “subject to be tried and condemned to be punished by any court, for an alleged offence” without indictment (unless the offense charged either a contempt or within the jurisdiction of the district sought.)
  • The court also issued a concurring and dissenting opinion of Nakayama, J., in which McKenna, J. joins Sections II and III [ada] and a dissenting opinion by Recktenwald, CJ, in which Nakayama, J., joins [ada].
  • The decision “interferes with law enforcement and endangers public safety,” according to Hawaii County Attorney Kelden Waltjen, who issued a written response to the notice.

From Attorney Waltjen in response to the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling:

“Today the Supreme Court of Hawaii issued its opinion in State v. Richard Obrero, who determined that Section 801-1 of the Revised Laws of Hawaii prevents the state from prosecuting crimes by complaint and preliminary investigation. Our Office is extremely disappointed with the Court’s decision in Obrero. This decision contradicts established criminal law practices and procedures that have been in place in Hawai’i over the past forty years. It also ignores voter intent, interferes with law enforcement and endangers public safety. The ruling prevents criminal prosecution in arrest and charge situations for serious cases, including but not limited to murder, kidnapping, robbery, domestic violence, drug trafficking and sexual assault. As a result, offenders can be freed until prosecutors are able to proceed by indictment or schedule a presentation before a grand jury. To make matters worse, not all criminal charges can be brought through information charges, and opportunities for grand jury presentation are limited. Here on the island of Hawai’i, we only have the ability to have a grand jury three times a month, twice a month in Hilo and once a month in Kona.

Our Office agrees with Chief Justice Rectenwald’s dissenting opinion, which provides in relevant part that ‘[t]The fact remains that the Majority today achieves a result that neither the legislator nor the electorate ever wanted.

I have reached out to our Hawaii State Legislators and the Governor for their assistance in expediting the amendment of Section 801-1 to limit the adverse effects of Obrero. This decision will not deter our office from seeking justice for the victims and working to make the island of Hawaii a safer place.