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State v. Acacio

Supreme Court of Hawaii

June 15, 2017

STATE OF HAWAI'I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RAINIER ACACIO, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.

         CERTIORARI TO THE INTERMEDIATE COURT OF APPEALS (CAAP-13-0000132; CR. NO. 12-1-0049)

          Jon N. Ikenaga and Titiimaea N. Ta#ase for petitioner.

          Brian R. Vincent for respondent.

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

          OPINION

          NAKAYAMA, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee the State of Hawai'i (the State) charged Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant Rainier Acacio (Acacio) with offenses arising from a domestic dispute between Acacio and his ex-girlfriend, the complaining witness (CW). The jury found Acacio guilty of one of the offenses - terroristic threatening in the first degree - and the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (circuit court) entered a judgment of conviction and probation sentence, which the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) affirmed.

         In his application for writ of certiorari, Acacio takes issue, inter alia, with the circuit court's decision to limit the CW's testimony on cross-examination. In brief, defense counsel asked the CW questions regarding her knowledge of Acacio's immigration status and whether the CW knew that Acacio could face deportation if he was arrested. The State objected. Despite defense counsel's argument that this line of questioning was imperative in order to establish the CW's bias or motive, the circuit court sustained the State's objection and struck the questions and responses from the record.

         We conclude that Acacio was deprived of his right to confront and cross-examine the complaining witness as to her bias and motive. Testimony derived from the CW's answers to the immigration questions might have illuminated the CW's motive for calling the police, and ultimately had the potential to affect her credibility as a witness. Accordingly, we vacate the ICA's September 9, 2016 judgment on appeal, vacate the circuit court's February 4, 2013 judgment of conviction and probation sentence, and remand this case to the circuit court for a new trial.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Circuit Court Proceedings[1]

         On January 11, 2012, the State charged Acacio with: 1) one count of terroristic threatening in the first degree, in violation of Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 707-716(1)(e), for threatening "to cause bodily injury to [the CW], with the use of a dangerous instrument, in reckless disregard of the risk of terrorizing [the CW]"; and 2) one count of abuse of family or household members, in violation of HRS § 709-906(1) and (5), for "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly physically abus[ing] [the CW.]"

         The jury trial began on November 16, 2012. On direct examination, the CW testified that Acacio was her live-in boyfriend just prior to the time of the January 1, 2012 incident, and that they had been together for almost two and a half years. The CW explained that in December of 2011, she broke up with Acacio, but that he continued to live in her house until the incident on January 1, 2012.

         The CW gave the following testimony about the incident that led to Acacio's arrest:

On the night of December 31, 2011, the CW's family had a New Year's party at their house. The CW was outside, enjoying the party with her family, while Acacio was inside the house. Shortly after midnight, the CW received a phone call from Acacio, and they exchanged New Year's greetings before she hung up. Soon after the phone call, the CW saw Acacio exit the house and she entered the house, went to her bedroom, and started preparing for bed. As she was doing this, Acacio came into the bedroom, closed the door, and said that he wanted to fix their relationship. The CW responded that their relationship was over; at this point, Acacio became mad and emotional and said that he would kill himself. The CW responded, "go ahead, it's not my fault, " and Acacio left the bedroom and returned holding a kitchen knife. Acacio pointed the knife at himself and kept repeating that he was going to kill himself. Acacio then "changed his mind, " pointed the knife at the CW, and started saying, "I will kill you." The CW knocked the knife out of Acacio's hand, and Acacio then grabbed her by the face and punched her in the stomach. When Acacio turned around to grab the knife, the CW locked herself in the bathroom and called 911.

         On cross-examination, the deputy public defender (DPD) elicited the following testimony from the CW:

[DPD:] When you called 911, you told Rainier you were calling 911; right?
[CW:] Yes.
[DPD:] You told him to grab your things?
[CW:] And leave the house.
[DPD:] And leave, right, leave me alone?
[CW:] Yes.
[DPD:] Leave my family alone?
[CW:] Yes.
[DPD:] But he didn't leave; right?
[CW:] Yes, ma'am.
[DPD:] And when he didn't leave, you got upset?
[CW:] Excuse me?
[DPD:] When he didn't listen to you when you told him to leave, when he stayed there, you got upset?
[CW:] Yes, ma'am.
[DPD:] Because you had already been broken up with him for two weeks; right?
[CW:] Yes, ma'am.
[DPD:] He was still living in the house?
[CW:] Yes, ma'am.
[DPD:] You wanted him out of the house?
[CW:] Yes, ma'am.
[DPD:] He was supposed to be looking for a place; right?
[CW:] Yes, ma'am.
[DPD:] You didn't think he was actually looking for a place?
[CW:] He told me that he's looking for a place and he asking for a time to ...

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