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State v. Teale

Supreme Court of Hawaii

February 28, 2017

STATE OF HAWAI'I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
LAULANI TEALE, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.




          POLLACK, J.

         This case requires us to consider the definition of "tumultuous behavior" as a form of conduct on which a conviction under Hawaii's disorderly conduct statute may be based. The State, in its prosecution of Laulani Teale for disorderly conduct, and the Intermediate Court of Appeals, in affirming Teale's conviction, have offered various and conflicting definitions of the term "tumultuous behavior." We address the meaning of "tumultuous" to settle this issue of first impression and also determine whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support Teale's conviction under the statute.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 1, 2012, Laulani Teale attended the annual May Day event held at Kapi'olani Park with members of DeOccupy Honolulu to petition the Honolulu mayor (Mayor) regarding actions of the City and County of Honolulu. While in attendance, Teale was arrested for disorderly conduct. The complaint filed by the State alleged the disorderly conduct charge as a petty misdemeanor offense, in violation of Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) § 711-1101 (1) (a) and (3) (1993 & Supp. 2003)[1]:

On or about the 1st day of May, 2012, in the City and County of Honolulu, state of Hawaii, Laulani Teale, also known as Leslie Ann Hoalani Table, with intent to cause physical inconvenience and/or alarm by a member or members of the public and/or recklessly creating a risk thereof, did engage in fighting and/or threatening and/or in violent and/or tumultuous behavior persisting in disorderly conduct after reasonable warning or request to desist thereby committing the offense of Disorderly Conduct, a petty misdemeanor, in violation of Section 711-1101(1)(a) and (3) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.

         Following her not guilty plea, Teale proceeded pro se at a trial held before the Honolulu District Court of the First Circuit (district court).[2] The State called Honolulu Police Department (HPD) Officers Keoki Duarte and Nalei So'oto to testify regarding Teale's conduct at the May Day event. The State also called two employees of the City Department of Parks and Recreation who were involved in organizing the event.

         According to the testimony of the State's witnesses, Teale was accompanied by a group of people at the May Day event. Teale was observed walking around the area with signs and blowing a conch shell. At one point, Teale blew the conch shell several times while standing in a grassy area located about fifty to sixty yards away from the Kapi'olani Bandstand (Bandstand). Teale was also described by the State's witnesses as having walked in front of the Bandstand two to three times, which obstructed views of the performances and caused the performances to be paused for a few minutes each time so that police officers could escort Teale away from the Bandstand.[3]

         While at the May Day event, Teale attempted three to five times to approach the Mayor to speak with him. HPD officers "intervened" to advise Teale that she needed to use the proper protocol to meet with the Mayor and that attempting to do so at the May Day event was inappropriate. Teale was described as being "aggressive" in seeking to meet with the Mayor--stating several times to officers, "I want to meet the mayor, " being "persistent" in wanting to "ask [the Mayor] certain questions, " becoming "frustrated" when the police intervened and prevented her from talking to the Mayor, being "loud, " and being disruptive to persons watching the May Day program.

         The culminating event leading to Teale's arrest occurred during her final attempt to speak with the Mayor while he was seated in the audience watching the performances. Before reaching the Mayor, however, Teale was surrounded by three HPD police officers who arranged themselves in a semi-circle formation. According to the testimony of Officer Duarte, Teale was carrying a conch shell and the police officers were concerned because a conch shell can be used "for anything, " "[j]ust like a pen in [the officer's] pocket."[4] After repeating that Teale could not speak with the Mayor and informing her that she needed to step away from the area, Officer Duarte placed Teale under arrest for disorderly conduct. Teale either sat down on the ground before she was arrested, during her arrest, or immediately after her arrest.[5] The officers instructed Teale to "stand up and walk away and just go to the side, " and in response, Teale stood up and began walking around the officers in the general direction of the Mayor. The officers then "picked [Teale] up and then [they] took her away."

         Officer So'oto testified that Teale was not violent, confrontational, or threatening.[6] The officer explained that "the conch shell had nothing to do with [Teale's] arrest" and the conch shell was not taken into evidence. There was also no evidence that Teale was screaming, shouting, or belligerent at any time during the May Day event or in her interactions with police officers or spectators.

         However, attendees at the event were described as "agitated, " "frustrated, " and "mad" because of Teale's interruption of the performances. Many members of the crowd were focused on HPD's interactions with Teale, in part "because there were a bunch of policemen there." One of the State's witnesses indicated that audience members yelled for HPD to remove Teale from the area and shouted at Teale that she was ruining the show and should leave the festival.

         The State also introduced eight clips from a video of the events leading to Teale's arrest that was provided to the State by Teale during discovery. The first four clips show Teale standing in a grassy area on the outskirts of a crowd and blowing a conch shell while the Mayor and other individuals address the audience from the Bandstand.

         The fifth clip shows scenes during Teale's final attempt to speak with the Mayor. Teale is standing amidst the audience in front of the Bandstand with her head bowed and holding the conch shell at waist-level with both arms; she is surrounded on three sides by HPD police officers and is speaking in Hawaiian at a normal volume. As police officers ask her to move, Teale sits down and continues speaking in Hawaiian. Audience members can be heard urging, "Go away, go away, " while Teale remains seated on the ground with her arms circling her legs and her head bowed. An audience member and three police officers continue to surround Teale. In the sixth clip (which is an immediate continuation from the fifth clip), Teale stands and walks towards the Bandstand; when she is quickly approached by two police officers, she sits back down on the ground. HPD officers grab her arms, in response to which Teale states, "I can sit here." Teale remains seated with her arms resting in her lap, occasionally gesturing with her hands[7] as she speaks to the surrounding police officers and audience members. Performances can be heard proceeding on the Bandstand off-camera. The seventh clip shows HPD police officers carrying Teale away, and audience members can be heard clapping and cheering. The eighth clip depicts police officers placing Teale in handcuffs.

         At the conclusion of trial, the district court found Teale guilty of disorderly conduct in violation of HRS § 711-1101. The court considered that although Teale may have "started the day with the best of intentions . . . [her] own video pretty much blows [her] entire case." The court reasoned that Teale's actions in repeatedly blowing the conch shell "show[ed] pure disrespect for the program" and that her decision to attempt to "see the mayor no matter what" eventually "led [her] on the path towards disorderly conduct." In her effort to communicate with the Mayor, the court noted that Teale "didn't sit to peacefully observe the program, " but rather, "sat to create a spectacle." The court specified that Teale's "conduct became disorderly" when she "made repeated attempts in front of the audience to try and get to [the Mayor] despite being given warnings by the police do not do that."

         The district court stated that "all" of the audience members were "being inconvenienced or annoyed" by Teale's actions. The court elaborated that the effect of Teale's behavior was demonstrated by the audience's reaction to Teale being carried away by police officers, when spectators were "heard to be clapping and cheering that the obstruction to their enjoyment of the program was being removed." With respect to the conch shell, the judge stated that "[he] underst[ood] a practitioner would never use a conch as a weapon, " but indicated that things which are not intended to be weapons may still be used to inflict harm. The court did not reference the terms "fighting, "threatening, " "tumultuous, " or "violent" in its oral findings, but rather, repeatedly described Teale's conduct as "disorderly."[8]

         The court sentenced Teale to six months of probation, seventy-five hours of community service, and $105 in fees and assessments.


         Teale filed a notice of appeal to the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) asserting that there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction.[9] Specifically, Teale contended that the evidence failed to prove that she committed the requisite actus reus because she did not fight, threaten, or engage in violent or tumultuous behavior.[10]

         In a Summary Disposition Order (SDO), the ICA concluded that there was sufficient evidence to show that Teale engaged in "tumultuous behavior" within the meaning of the disorderly conduct statute. Citing, the ICA defined "tumultuous" as: (1) "full of tumult or riotousness; marked by disturbance and uproar"; (2) "raising a great clatter and commotion; disorderly or noisy"; and (3) "highly agitated, as the mind or emotions; distraught; turbulent." Also citing, the ICA defined "disorderly" as: (1) "characterized by disorder; irregular; untidy; confused"; (2) "unruly; turbulent; tumultuous"; and (3) "contrary to public order or morality."

         The ICA noted that the "context of Teale's actions was a confrontation with the police in the midst of a well-attended May Day program." The ICA stated that when "[v]iewed in this context, " Teale engaged in "tumultuous behavior" by repeatedly attempting to approach the Mayor, refusing to comply with police warnings and requests, and by disturbing members of the audience. Therefore, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, the ICA concluded that the prosecution presented substantial evidence to show that Teale engaged in tumultuous behavior within the meaning of the disorderly conduct statute.


         Statutory interpretation is a question of law reviewed de novo. State v. Wang, 91 Hawai'i 140, 141, 981 P.2d 230, 231 (1999) .

         "When reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence on appeal, the test is whether, 'viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, there is substantial evidence to support the conclusion of the trier of fact.'" State v. Hirayasu, 71 Haw. 587, 589, 801 P.2d 25, 26 (1990) (quoting State v. Hernandez, 61 Haw. 475, 477, 605 P.2d 75, 77 (1980)).

         IV. ...

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