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State v. Torres

Supreme Court of Hawaii

April 10, 2019

STATE OF HAWAI'I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RINALDO J. TORRES, JR., Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.

          CERTIORARI TO THE INTERMEDIATE COURT OF APPEALS (CAAP-16-0000673; CR. NO. 14-1-1376)

          Emmanuel G. Guerrero for petitioner.

          Chad M. Kumagai for respondent.

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

          OPINION

          POLLACK, J.

         Under our precedents, a defendant in a criminal case relinquishes fundamental constitutional rights only when the rights are knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived. To protect against the wrongful deprivation of these important rights, we require trial courts to conduct on-the-record colloquies prior to accepting such waivers, thereby ensuring that defendants understand the nature and consequences of their decisions and make their choices freely. We now reaffirm that the colloquy must be conducted so as to demonstrate that the waiver is a product of the defendant's free will, undertaken in the absence of duress or other undue influence.

         Our precedents also firmly establish that a defendant's right to testify is of equal constitutional stature to the defendant's corresponding right to refrain from testifying. Despite our recognition of this symmetry, our current procedures require that a trial court engage a defendant in an on-the-record colloquy only when the defendant waives the right to testify--and not when the defendant waives the reciprocal right not to testify.

         We hold that, because the two constitutional rights are of equal importance, they should be afforded equal levels of protection. Accordingly, trial courts must engage the defendant in an on-the-record colloquy regarding the right to testify and to not testify when either right is waived, effectively making such a colloquy necessary in every trial. Because we apply our holding only prospectively, however, and the circumstances and strength of the evidence in this case render any error on the part of the trial court harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we affirm the defendant's convictions.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Pretrial

         On August 27, 2014, a grand jury of the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (circuit court) indicted Rinaldo J. Torres, Jr. on one count of robbery in the first degree in violation of Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) § 708-840(1)(b)(i) and/or 708-840(1)(b)(ii)[1] and one count of terroristic threatening in the first degree in violation of HRS § 707-716(1) (e).[2] At his arraignment, Torres entered pleas of not guilty.

         Five days before trial was scheduled to begin, Torres submitted a Waiver of Indictment/Trial by Jury form to the court. The form stated "I, the above named defendant, charged with violation of the indicated statute have been advised of my rights," and it contained a box for the waiver of the right to an indictment and a box for the waiver of the right to a jury trial. Torres checked the box that said "I waive my right to trial by jury and consent to a trial by the COURT without a jury" and signed the bottom of the form.

         The trial began on March 23, 2015.[3] Before opening statements, the court indicated that defense counsel had communicated Torres's desire to waive his right to a jury trial. The circuit court engaged in the following colloquy with Torres:

THE COURT: Your lawyer has provided the Court with a waiver of trial by jury form. And it appears to have your signature. Is this your signature?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: Did you go over this form with your lawyer before you signed it?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
THE COURT: And did you read and understand it before you signed it?
THE DEFENDANT: I believe I did. Yeah.
THE COURT: Do you have any questions about this form?
THE DEFENDANT: No.
THE COURT: Knowing the[] penalties [of robbery in the first degree and terroristic threatening in the first degree], do you still want to go by way of a bench trial? That is, a waiver of your right to a jury trial?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes. I feel that you will be fair in weighing the evidence against me. Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Do you understand that you do have a right to a jury trial in this case?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, I do. Thank you.
THE COURT: And you understand that in a jury trial, you and your lawyer may participate in selecting twelve citizens who would serve as jurors in this case and decide whether you are guilty or not guilty of these crimes?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: And you understand that you and your lawyer, or you through your lawyer, will be able to ask questions of the jurors to determine whether they can be fair and impartial? Do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: And you understand that your lawyer will be given three peremptory challenges. In other words, you and your lawyer will be permitted to excuse up to three jurors, without giving any reason for it. . . . Do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes. I understand that.
THE COURT: And you understand that before you can be found guilty of these crimes, all twelve jurors must agree that you are guilty. In other words, their verdict must be unanimous.
THE DEFENDANT: Yes. I understand that.
THE COURT: And you understand that by giving up your right to a jury trial, you will be giving up all these rights?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: And you also understand that by giving up your right to a jury trial, I--that is the judge--will decide whether you are guilty or not guilty of these crimes?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Do you have any questions about what I have told you?
THE DEFENDANT: No. Still we still go through the same procedures as what my defense is ...

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