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State v. Gouveia

Supreme Court of Hawaii

October 25, 2016

STATE OF HAWAI'I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ROYCE C. GOUVEIA, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.

         CERTIORARI TO THE INTERMEDIATE COURT OF APPEALS (CAAP-14-0000358; CR. NO. 12-1-1474)

          RECKTENWALD, C.J., McKENNA, POLLACK, AND WILSON, JJ., WITH NAKAYAMA, J., DISSENTING

          OPINION

          RECKTENWALD, C.J.

         This case requires us to determine whether the trial court erred in declaring a mistrial based on jurors' concerns about their safety. Defendant Royce Gouveia was charged with manslaughter and tried before the Circuit Court of the First Circuit.[1] After deliberating, the jurors sent several notes to the court. The first note stated: "We reached a verdict." Another note expressed concern for their safety because a man on the prosecutor's side of the courtroom had been "glaring and whistling at [Gouveia]." The circuit court conducted voir dire of the jurors to determine what, if any, effect the incident had on them. The circuit court then declared a mistrial based on manifest necessity. Gouveia subsequently filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the circuit court's finding of manifest necessity and declaration of a mistrial was erroneous, and that further prosecution was prohibited on double jeopardy grounds. The circuit court denied the motion.

         Gouveia appealed the denial of his motion to dismiss to the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA). The ICA affirmed the circuit court, State v. Gouveia, CAAP-14-358 (App. Apr. 30, 2015) (mem.), and Gouveia then petitioned this court to review the ICA's judgment.

         We conclude that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that there was manifest necessity for a mistrial because the presumption of prejudice was not overcome beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the ICA's June 4, 2015 judgment on appeal is affirmed.

         I. Background

         On September 25, 2012, an altercation occurred in which Gouveia struck Albert Meyer, causing Meyer to fall and hit his head on the pavement. Meyer was taken to the hospital by ambulance and pronounced brain dead two days later. Gouveia was arrested and charged with manslaughter for recklessly causing the death of Meyer in violation of Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 707-702 (1) (a) .

         On the afternoon of June 6, 2013, the same day the State and Gouveia made their closing arguments in Gouveia's trial, the jury sent two simultaneous communications to the circuit court. Communication No. 3, signed at 2:20 p.m., stated: "We reached a verdict." Communication No. 2, signed four minutes later, stated: "Concern. This morning on prosecutor's side of courtroom there was a man, shaved head, glaring and whistling at defendant. We have concern for our safety as jurors."

         The circuit court told the State and Gouveia, "My intention, unless counsel . . . can persuade me otherwise, is just to take no action on this[.]" However, both counsel agreed that the court should question the jurors "[a]s to its effect, if any, on their deliberations and their verdict[.]" The circuit court then determined that, before opening the verdict, it would allow counsel to voir dire the jurors individually and would also ask questions directly.

         Before questioning the jurors, the circuit court asked counsel whether they knew anything about the occurrence to which Communication No. 2 referred. Defense counsel stated that he was not aware of anything that had happened. The Deputy Prosecuting Attorney (DPA) stated that she did not see anything, but was aware that Meyer's brother had been in the courtroom that morning, was "pretty upset, " and had a shaved head.

         A. Questioning of the Jurors Regarding Communication No. 2

         The circuit court questioned all twelve jurors individually. Four jurors stated that they witnessed an individual seated on the prosecutor's side of the courtroom whistling and/or glaring at Gouveia. The incident was brought up in the jury room, where some of the jurors who observed the incident stated that they "were a little bit scared." When Juror No. 4 was asked by the court, "So I take it you have concern for your safety, " she replied, "Yes."

         Seven jurors indicated that the discussion of the incident occurred before the verdict, ranging from within ten minutes of commencing deliberation to the end of deliberation. At least four of these jurors indicated that the discussion occurred at the beginning of deliberations and that it was one of the first topics discussed. All twelve jurors stated that neither the incident itself nor the discussions of it affected their own decision, but when Juror No. 11 was asked if the incident "appear[ed] to have an impact on other people's decision[, ]" she replied that "[i]t did."

         B. The State Moves for a Mistrial

         After all of the jurors had been questioned, the circuit court asked both the State and Gouveia if they wanted the court to take any further action. Gouveia said no, but the State moved for a mistrial.

         The State argued there was a manifest necessity to declare a mistrial because the topic of the man glaring and whistling at Gouveia had come up during deliberations, no one had remarked that it was an improper topic for the jury to consider, and, based on the statement made by Juror No. 11, the topic had seemed to influence the other jurors. The State noted that approximately five of the jurors had said that the topic of the incident came up during deliberations, i.e., before the jury had reached its verdict. Thus, according to the State, the verdict was "tainted."

         The State also argued that it was important that at least three jurors said the topic of the incident came up at the beginning of the deliberations because, along with the fact that the jurors decided to write a communication to the court after reaching a verdict, it implied that it was important to some of the jurors.

         Gouveia argued that because the court had instructed the jurors that they had to decide the case based solely on the evidence presented, and each of the jurors said that the discussion did not impact their decision, there was no manifest necessity.

         The circuit court determined that it was required to look at the totality of the circumstances and find beyond a reasonable doubt that the jurors' concern for their personal safety had no impact on any of the twelve jurors' decisions. If it could not find that beyond a reasonable doubt, then there would be manifest necessity requiring a mistrial.

         The circuit court then orally granted the State's motion for mistrial:

[W]hen I . . . apply my reason and common sense to this that at least some of these jurors have . . . what strikes me as a really serious concern for their personal safety and it came up according to, at least as I count, four or five of them, it [was] . . . one of the first topics of discussion when they got back in the room and started deliberating the case. Somebody brought it up and they started talking about it. It frankly beggars my reason and common sense that it would have no bearing on the deliberations in this case and therefore the verdict.
I'm going to grant the State's motion for mistrial. I'm going to find there's manifest necessity for such based on what I said . . . and everything else that's been put on the record, including my questions to counsel.
The verdict's going to be sealed for future purposes, if any, but obviously we're not going to take the verdict. I'm declaring a mistrial and I'm finding manifest necessity for that, because I don't think there's anything short of a mistrial . . . that can cure it. The verdict's tainted, in my view, based on my findings.
And to be explicit about it, as the finder of fact, I don't find it credible that all 12 of these people despite the answer they gave me about no impact on their decision, I think at least one, and probably more than one of them . . . had these serious concerns about their safety. It really beggars my reason and common sense that it could not have had any impact on their deliberations and decision in this case.
The circuit court later added:
So the record's clear and [Defense Counsel] has this appellate issue if it becomes one in the future, I am importing that standard from the juror misconduct cases in my ruling here .... And I'm finding that I cannot find beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no impact on the deliberations or verdict in this case such that the verdict was not tainted.

         On October 22, 2013, the circuit court entered its findings of fact (FOFs), conclusions of law (COLs), and order granting the State's motion for mistrial. The circuit court made the following relevant FOFs:

9. Seven of the jurors indicated discussion of the incident occurred before the verdict, ranging from within ten minutes of commencing deliberation to the end of deliberation. At least four of these seven jurors indicated discussion of the incident occurred at the beginning of deliberations, specifically that it was one of the first topics discussed.
10. During the discussion of the incident prior to verdict, the jurors who actually observed the incident communicated to the other jurors fear for their own safety.
11. Some of the juror answers regarding Communication No. 2 and the incident included the following:
a. Some jurors were worried about retaliation;
b. The unidentified male's look appeared hostile during ...

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