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State v. Eduwensuyi

Supreme Court of Hawaii

January 18, 2018

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

         CERTIORARI TO THE INTERMEDIATE COURT OF APPEALS (CAAP-16-0000558; CASE NO. 1DTA-16-00425)

          James S. Tabe for petitioner

          Loren J. Thomas for respondent

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

          OPINION

          POLLACK, J.

         The appeal in this case arises from a challenge by Benjamin Eduwensuyi to the validity of his waiver of the right to testify at trial and the propriety of the conviction that ensued. We hold that the record does not support a conclusion that Eduwensuyi's waiver of the right to testify was voluntarily, intelligently, and knowingly made. Because the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we vacate the conviction and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 1, 2016, Eduwensuyi was charged by complaint in the Honolulu District Court of the First Circuit (district court) with operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant in violation of Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) § 29lE-6l(a) (1), [1] A bench trial took place on July 11, 2016.[2]Prior to the presentation of evidence, the district court advised Eduwensuyi as follows:

THE COURT: ... I have to advise you that you have a right to testify if you choose to do so.
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: And you also have a right not to testify. That's up to you. I'll question you further toward the end of the trial as to whether or not you want to waive either of these rights, to make sure that you've been fully informed of your rights and to make sure that any decision you make is your decision, it's voluntary, okay. So your attorney can give you advice about whether or not you should or should not testify, but ultimately, it's your decision. Do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Okay, very well. We can readily proceed then.

         The State presented the testimony of one witness, Officer Jessie Takushi of the Honolulu Police Department. Officer Takushi testified that at approximately 4:37 a.m. on January 17, 2016, he stopped a vehicle occupied by Eduwensuyi for multiple traffic infractions, including crossing a double solid yellow line.

         According to Officer Takushi, as he was approaching Eduwensuyi's vehicle, he saw Eduwensuyi climbing from the driver's seat into the passenger's seat. When Officer Takushi reached the vehicle, he noticed that there was a different male in the driver's seat and that Eduwensuyi was "kind of laying down on the passenger's side with his feet still in the driver's seat area."

         Officer Takushi testified that he asked Eduwensuyi for his driver's license, registration, and insurance, which Eduwensuyi provided. Officer Takushi stated that Eduwensuyi's eyes were red and watery, his speech was slurred, and an odor of alcohol emanated from inside the vehicle. At Officer Takushi's request, Eduwensuyi agreed to participate in the standardized field sobriety test. According to Officer Takushi, Eduwensuyi was unsteady on his feet, he swayed while standing, and he dragged his feet when walking. Officer Takushi acknowledged that his report did not mention that Eduwensuyi was swaying while standing.

         Following Officer Takushi's testimony, the State rested. The defense then informed the district court that it would not be presenting evidence, and the following exchange occurred:

THE COURT: . . . sir, you do have a right to testify if you choose to do so, as I said at the beginning of the trial. And if you testify, though, the prosecutor can cross-examine you and ask you questions. If you decide not to testify, the court -- I can't hold it against you, nor would I, that you are not going to testify. Okay, doesn't mean anything one way or the other to the court. Do you understand these rights?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: All right. And have you consulted with your attorney about whether or not you wish to testify?
THE DEFENDANT: I like to take a second to do so right now, sir.
THE COURT: Pardon me?
THE DEFENDANT: I'd like to take a second right now, Your Honor -- . . . -- to do so again.
THE COURT: - very well.
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: You have consulted with your attorney?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: And do you wish to ...

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