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State v. Godines

Supreme Court of Hawaii

August 5, 2016

STATE OF HAWAI'I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
DANNETTE H. GODINES, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.


          Dannette Godines, petitioner, pro se

          Ryan K. Caday for respondent



          RECKTENWALD, C.J.

         Dannette H. Godines received a citation for operating a vehicle without motor vehicle insurance in violation of Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 431:10C-104 (2005).[1] The District Court of the Third Circuit[2] found Godines guilty and sentenced her to a $500 fine. Upon appeal to the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA), Godines requested waiver of her transcript costs under HRS § 802-7 (1979). [3] The ICA denied her request for waiver, reasoning that Godines was not a "criminal defendant" as required by the statute. After several more attempts to get her transcript costs waived, Godines proceeded with her appeal without filing any of the district court transcripts. She argued that the district court committed reversible error by failing to adjudicate her case pursuant to HRS Chapter 291D[4] and the Hawai'i Civil Traffic Rules (HCTR). The ICA affirmed the district court, concluding that HRS Chapter 291D does not apply to violations of HRS § 431:10C-104 and that the district court used the proper procedure.

In her application, Godines presents three questions:
A. Whether the [ICA] gravely erred when it misinterpreted HRS §431:10C-117(a)(6), then misapplied it to the ruling in this matter in its Summary Disposition Order of December 21, 2015.
B. Whether the [ICA] gravely erred under HRS §602-59 when it denied Petitioner the required waiver to facilitate the procurement of vital written transcripts based upon the finding that the violation of offense "constitutes a traffic infraction" as defined by HRS §291D and supporting case law, then turned and ruled in favor of Respondent based upon the complete opposite finding that the violation or offense "not be deemed . . . a traffic infraction as defined by chapter 291D."
C. Whether the ICA gravely erred when it failed to surmise that the lower court should have disposed of this case on May 14, 2013 had it complied with [HRS] §805-13, the proper procedure for violations under [HRS §] 431:10C-104, and that other contributing factors, including the requirement of actual operation of a motor vehicle prior to being cited for said moving violation, would deem [HRS] §291D the proper application in this matter.

         In short, Godines argues that the ICA (1) incorrectly concluded that HRS Chapter 291D did not apply to her case and (2) improperly denied her requests to waive transcript costs.

         We conclude that the ICA correctly determined that HRS Chapter 291D did not apply to Godines' case, since HRS § 431:10C-117 (2006) clearly states that first time violations of HRS § 431:10C-104 "shall not be deemed to be a traffic infraction as defined by chapter 291D." HRS § 431:10C-117(a)(6).

         However, the ICA did err in denying Godines' request for transcript costs on the basis that she was not a "criminal defendant" under HRS § 802-7. Although the punishment of a first time violation of HRS § 431:10C-104 does not include imprisonment, HRS § 431:10C-104 cases are adjudicated pursuant to criminal procedure in a criminal proceeding. Further, the legislature sought to impose harsher penalties for HRS § 431:10C-104, as evidenced by the fact that multiple convictions under HRS § 431:10C-104 authorize imprisonment. HRS § 431:10C-117(a)(5). Thus, Godines should be considered a "criminal defendant" for the purposes of HRS § 802-7.

         We therefore vacate the ICA's judgment on appeal and remand with instructions to consider Godines' request under HRS § 802-7 and determine whether she is entitled to payment of transcripts from available court funds. If Godines is so entitled, the transcripts shall be included in the record on appeal, and the ICA should allow for supplemental briefing on issues other than those related to HRS Chapter 291D.

         I. Background

         A. District Court Proceedings

         Godines received a citation for "No Motor Vehicle Insurance Policy, " in violation of HRS § 431:10C-104. After a bench trial, the court found Godines guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and sentenced her to the following: "[Fine] $500, of which $450 suspended for a period of 6 months provided no further similar violations; [Driver Education Assessment Fee] $7; [Administrative Fee] $40."

         B. ICA Proceedings

         Godines filed her notice of appeal and a "Motion for Leave to Proceed on Appeal In Forma Pauperis, " stating that she was unable to pay the costs of her appeal. The motion also expressed her intent to appeal the following issues:

1. Lack of probable cause prior to police involvement preempting violation of civil rights;
2. Criteria not met prior to issuance of citation;
3. Lack of equity during trial court proceeding, plain and grave error, abuse of discretion;
4. Existence of ample reasonable doubt; and,
5. Questionable, even contemptuous behavior on the part of certain police officers, prosecuting attorneys and trial court.

         The ICA granted Godines' motion to proceed in forma pauperis and ordered the clerk to "file the record on appeal without payment of the filing fee."[5] Godines subsequently filed a "Request for Waiver of Prepayment of Court Costs, " requesting "pursuant to HRS § 802-7 and any other applicable statute, that prepayment of . . . costs be paid from available court funds or waived, . . . includ[ing] transcripts or witness fees and transportation, investigatory, expert or other services[.]"

         The ICA denied Godines' request, reasoning that Godines was not entitled to a waiver of appellate fees because HRS § 802-7 only applies to "criminal defendants." The ICA noted that a single conviction under HRS § 431:10C-104 is not punishable by imprisonment, and thus, Godines' citation constituted a traffic infraction. Because HRS § 291D-3(a) (2007) states that "[n]o traffic infraction shall be classified as a criminal offense[, ]" the ICA determined that Godines had not been charged with a crime.

         The ICA further reasoned that, pursuant to HRS Chapter 291D, "contested traffic citations are adjudicated at a hearing before a district court" and that "[a]n adjudication in favor of the State may be followed by a trial de novo." The ICA stated Godines' case was adjudicated with a trial de novo "consistent with the procedure for a traffic infraction rather than a criminal offense[.]"

         Therefore, the ICA concluded that Godines was not entitled to a waiver of costs under HRS § 802-7. Godines did not pay the transcript costs requested by the court reporter, and no transcripts were filed in the record on appeal.

         Godines filed--and the ICA denied--several motions repeatedly arguing that the court's grant of her motion to proceed in forma pauperis established her indigent status and that the transcripts were necessary to present her issues on appeal.

         Her opening brief again stated that Godines was "severely crippled" by the ICA's denial of her waiver request and presented the following question on appeal:

The question in this instant case is whether the trial [c]ourt committed reversible error by adjudicating a traffic infraction as a traffic crime under the HRPP and HRE, sending Appellant directly to trial as a criminal defendant, yet without the provision of counsel, while the prosecutor maintained a presence all throughout the proceedings, as opposed to adjudicating the infraction in accordance with HRS §291D-8 and the HCTR [Hawai'i Civil Traffic Rules].

         She stated that, pursuant to HCTR Rule 2, [6] District Court Rules of Civil Procedure (DCRCP) Rule 1, [7] HRS § 291D-8, [8] and HRS § 291D-14(b) and (d), [9] she "expected an informal hearing . . . which would have consisted of one hearing . . . and a decision, without the presence of Prosecution." Godines argued that, in contrast, the district court "adjudicated this instant case in accordance with Hawai'i Rules of Penal Procedure (HRPP) and Hawai'i Rules of Evidence (HRE)."

         The ICA's Summary Disposition Order (SDO) determined that "Godines's argument that her alleged offense should have been handled pursuant to HRS Chapter 291D is incorrect." It reasoned that HRS § 431:10C-117(a)(6) provides that Godines' violation--a first time offense under HRS § 431:10C-104--"shall not be deemed to be a traffic infraction as defined by chapter 291D." Further, the ICA stated that failure to comply with HRS § 431:10C-104 is a violation, which constitutes a penal offense under HRS § 701-107(5).[10] Thus, the ICA concluded that "[t]he district court did not err in the procedure it utilized."

         The ICA further noted that "Godines also appears to contend that, if the trial court properly addressed her case outside of Chapter 291D, she was entitled to appointed counsel during her trial." However, the ICA determined that she was not entitled to appointed counsel because "Godines was not subject to imprisonment for her first violation of HRS § 431:10C-104." Accordingly, the ICA affirmed the district court's judgment.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. Conclusions of Law

         This court reviews the trial court's conclusions of law (COLs) de novo. Bhakta v. Cnty. of Maui, 109 Hawai'i 198, 208, 124 P.3d 943, 953 (2005). "A COL is not binding upon an appellate court and is freely reviewable for its correctness." Id. "Moreover, a COL that is supported by the trial court's Finding of Facts and that reflects an application of the correct rule of law will not be overturned." Id. (internal quotation marks, citations, and brackets in original omitted).

         B. Statutory Interpretation

         "Questions of statutory interpretation are questions of law reviewable de novo." Gump v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 93 Hawai'i 417, 420, 5 P.3d 407, 410 (2000). In our review of questions of statutory interpretation, this court is guided by the following principles:

First, the fundamental starting point for statutory interpretation is the language of the statute itself. Second, where the statutory language is plain and unambiguous, our sole duty is to give effect to its plain and obvious meaning. Third, implicit in the task of statutory construction is our foremost obligation to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature, which is to be obtained primarily from the language contained in the statute itself. Fourth, when there is doubt, doubleness of meaning, or indistinctiveness or uncertainty of an expression used in a statute, an ambiguity exists. And fifth, in construing an ambiguous statute, the meaning of the ...

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