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State v. Eager

Supreme Court of Hawaii

June 30, 2017

STATE OF HAWAI'I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
SAMUEL EAGER, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.


          Shawn A. Luiz for petitioner

          Loren J. Thomas for respondent



          RECKTENWALD, C.J.

         This case requires us to consider whether a defendant's failure to take prescription medication can constitute self-induced intoxication under Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 702-230, which precludes the defendant from relying on the defense of lack of penal responsibility due to a physical or mental disease, disorder, or defect. We hold that it does not, and that the defense is therefore available in the circumstances presented here.

         Defendant Samuel Eager was charged with assault in the second degree after attacking a stranger at a bus stop, and a bench trial was held in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (circuit court)-[1] Eager presented the defense of lack of penal responsibility as a result of disease, disorder, or defect, arguing that he was experiencing a psychotic episode at the time of the attack. The State did not dispute Eager's psychosis, but argued that he should nonetheless be held criminally responsible because his psychosis stemmed from his failure to take prescribed medication and from marijuana use. The circuit court found Eager guilty, concluding that "any disease, disorder, or defect the Defendant may have been suffering from at the time of the assault was self-induced and the product of the Defendant's refusal to take his prescribed medication and his use of marijuana." The court sentenced Eager to five years' incarceration.

         On appeal to the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA), Eager argued that (1) he was deprived of a fair trial because one expert witness, Dr. Wagner, improperly bolstered the opinion of another expert witness, Dr. Jacobs, and (2) the circuit court abused its discretion in sentencing Eager to five years' imprisonment because there were strong mitigating factors, making probation a more appropriate sentence. The ICA rejected Eager's arguments and affirmed the circuit court's judgment of conviction. Eager now raises the same arguments on certiorari review here.

         We agree with the ICA's reasoning regarding Eager's first point of error. We need not consider Eager's arguments regarding his sentence, as we recognize plain error in the circuit court's holding that Eager's psychotic behavior was the result of self-induced intoxication. HRS § 702-230(5) (1993) defines "self-induced intoxication" as "intoxication caused by substances which the defendant knowingly introduces into the defendant's body, the tendency of which to cause intoxication the defendant knows or ought to know." Accordingly, the circuit court's holding that Eager's failure to take his medication caused his psychotic behavior is inconsistent with the plain language of the statute, which requires the introduction of substances into the body. Thus, the circuit court's conviction of Eager was in error.

         We therefore vacate the ICA's judgment on appeal and the circuit court's judgment of conviction, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background

         A. Circuit Court Proceedings

         On February 1, 2013, the State charged Eager with one count of assault in the second degree in violation of HRS § 707-711(1)(b)[2] for recklessly causing substantial bodily injury to then-79-year-old Hua Zhao Liang (Liang), and subject to sentencing under HRS § 706-660.2[3].

         Eager filed a "Motion for H.R.S. § 704-404[4]Examination" to determine his fitness to proceed to trial and whether he would be held penally responsible for his conduct. The circuit court appointed a three-member panel of examiners: Dr. Leonard Jacobs, Dr. Duke Wagner, and Dr. Olaf Gitter.

         Each doctor submitted a report to the court. The doctors all determined that Eager was fit to proceed, but differed with regard to penal responsibility. Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Wagner concluded that Eager's cognitive and volitional capacities were not substantially impaired at the time of the alleged assault. Dr. Gitter concluded that Eager's capacities were substantially impaired due to an "acute manic episode."

         The court issued a "Judicial Determination of Fitness to Proceed and Order, " finding that Eager was fit to stand trial.

         Eager waived his right to a jury, and his case proceeded to a bench trial. Liang testified that on January 29, 2013, he got off the bus and was walking to the food bank when "on the left side of me suddenly someone hit me on my head and then I fainted." He testified that he lost consciousness and did not see the person who hit him. An ambulance took Liang to Queen's Medical Center (Queen's), where he received eighteen stitches. A passerby testified that on the morning of January 29, 2013, she saw Eager stomping on the head of an elderly man laying motionless on the ground, leading her to call 911 in response. A "Stipulation as to Testimony" was filed in open court, which indicated that Liang's injuries included a major laceration of the skin on his forehead, a facial bone fracture, and a serious concussion.

         The State's witnesses also included two Honolulu Police Department officers who interacted with Eager following his arrest several hours after the attack, and the detective who investigated the incident. The arresting officer testified that Eager was "compliant" and attentive at the time of arrest.

         Dr. Gitter, an expert in clinical psychology, testified for the defense that he reviewed Eager's medical records from Queen's, where he was treated on January 8-10 and 26-27, 2013, and O'ahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC), where he was examined following the alleged assault.

         Dr. Gitter testified that the Queen's and OCCC records showed that Eager exhibited signs of mental illness, including an acute manic episode, auditory and visual hallucinations, and bipolar disorder. Dr. Gitter also stated that on Eager's January 26-27 visit to Queen's, "drug testing showed that he tested positive for marijuana only."

         When questioned about Eager's marijuana use, Dr. Gitter testified that "cannibus [sic] psychotic disorder" exists, but that he "seriously doubt[ed]" that marijuana triggered Eager's acute manic episode.

         The defense then asked Dr. Gitter about Eager's mental state at the time of the incident, and Dr. Gitter answered that "he was suffering from a bipolar disorder mix type of depressive and manic features and that it was so severe that he was also psychotic at the time." When asked if he thought Eager was penally responsible for the assault, Dr. Gitter opined that Eager's cognitive and volitional capacities were "substantially impaired by an exacerbation of his mental disorder."

         On cross-examination, Dr. Gitter testified that although he could not say what exactly triggered Eager's manic episode at the time of the incident,

my opinion is that he still was suffering just two days after having been discharged from Queen's Medical Center. He had not been given any medication that typically would have been given to deal with the psychosis. He was only given, I believe Ambien, which is a sleep medication. And, the way he described the assault to me was that he was clearly psychotic asking the gentleman whether he believed in Jesus and then assaulting him to drive out the demons. Plus, two days later when he was at OCCC again he was noted to be manic and psychotic.

         The court asked Dr. Gitter if marijuana could indirectly trigger a psychotic episode by altering Eager's perception of reality, to which Dr. Gitter replied, "it could." When the court asked Dr. Gitter if Eager was psychotic from the time he was discharged from Queen's until he was admitted to OCCC, Dr. Gitter said yes.

         The State presented two rebuttal witnesses, Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Wagner, who also examined Eager at OCCC prior to trial.

         Dr. Jacobs, an expert in psychiatry, opined that Eager's judgment was impaired due to a combination of self-induced prescription drug withdrawal and marijuana use. Dr. Jacobs diagnosed Eager with "a personality disorder and somatic symptom disorder with predominant pain persistent and severe."[5]Dr. Jacobs testified that Eager was prescribed the sleep aid Ambien, the anti-inflammatory medication Meloxicam, and the painkiller Percocet. Dr. Jacobs also testified that Eager reported that he had "not taken any of his drugs, except marijuana, for three days" prior to the incident. Dr. Jacobs opined that ceasing to take Ambien would cause "severe insomnia, agitation, and feeling very uncomfortable, " and that stopping Percocet, an opiate, "can cause severe problems with withdrawal."

         Dr. Jacobs testified that Eager "did not have any psychosis at the time I interviewed him" and, according to the Queen's reports and Eager himself, he was not intoxicated but rather "probably suffering from withdrawal symptoms" at the time of the assault.[6] Dr. Jacobs further testified that despite his personality disorder, Eager "knows right from wrong."

         On cross-examination, Dr. Jacobs agreed that, at the time of the incident, Eager's psychotic episode rendered him incapable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his actions.

         The State then called Dr. Wagner, an expert in psychology, who testified that his "diagnostic impressions at the time of the alleged offense" were "post-traumatic stress disorder and cannabis abuse versus dependence." The State asked Dr. Wagner about the possible effects of marijuana use:

[Deputy Prosecuting Attorney]: [A]s a psychologist were you able to say whether or not the intake of a type of cannabis, for instance, marijuana, could that lead to psychosis?
[Dr. Wagner]: Well, I think the literature indicates that there is that possibility, yes. That has happened, I believe, in instances with many different types of illicit drugs, we found that to be true. And I think marijuana, although not maybe as frequently as, let's say, other drugs, like crystal methamphetamine, but still, I think there's been an indication that that has happened.

         Dr. Wagner described Eager's account of the incident as follows:

[Eager] was walking along the sidewalk, and he evidently asked the male individual, from what he reported to me, whether or not he believed in Jesus, and the individual replied, No, and laughed and said something else. Then he got angry, and he grabbed the individual, threw him down, started kicking him.

         Dr. Wagner opined, "to me [there] is not enough evidence to indicate that he is suffering from severe psychotic symptoms and a psychotic disorder such that he doesn't know that it's inappropriate to hit someone or pull someone to the ground and -- and can't control his behavior."

         The State asked Dr. Wagner several questions about Dr. Jacobs' report, two of which the circuit court disallowed because the State appeared to be "asking Dr. Wagner to testify as to the credibility of another witness."[7] The court permitted questions regarding whether Dr. Jacobs' report changed Dr. Wagner's opinion, and Dr. Wagner answered that Dr. Jacobs' report "provides additional information about the use of ...

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