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State v. Guity

Supreme Court of Hawaii

June 6, 2019

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

          CERTIORARI TO THE INTERMEDIATE COURT OF APPEALS (CAAP-12-0000287; CR. NO. 11-1-0288 and FC-CR. NO. 10-1-0022)

          Shawn A. Luiz (Brian A. Costa on the briefs and application) for Petitioner.

          Stephen K. Tsushima for Respondent.

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

          OPINION

          WILSON, J.

         After having entered a plea agreement, but prior to sentencing, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant Walter Guity ("Guity"), representing himself, orally moved in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit ("circuit court") to withdraw guilty pleas in his global plea agreement to two criminal offenses-one charged in the family district court ("family court case") that was legally impossible for him to have committed under the law in effect at the time of his plea. The second offense was charged in the circuit court ("circuit court case"). At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court denied Guity's oral motion to withdraw pleas in both cases and entered a sentence pursuant to the plea agreement.

         Because both of Guity's pleas were encompassed in a global plea agreement, and the Intermediate Court of Appeals ("ICA") correctly concluded that Guity was entitled to withdraw his plea in the family court case, the ICA should have also held that Guity was permitted to withdraw his plea in the circuit court case. Accordingly, we vacate the ICA's judgment on appeal, the circuit court's judgments, and the circuit court's order denying Guity's motion to withdraw pleas and remand to the circuit court with instructions to accept Guity's withdrawal of both pleas.

         I. Background

         In May 2010, Guity was charged in the family court with multiple counts relating to an incident with his wife, including attempted first-degree sexual assault. In March 2011, while awaiting trial in the family court case, Guity was charged in the circuit court with multiple counts of second-degree and fourth-degree sexual assault in an incident involving another woman.

         In May 2011, Guity entered a plea agreement in the circuit court encompassing both cases. In that agreement, he pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of third-degree sexual assault in the family court case, and pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault in the circuit court case. In return, the State agreed to dismiss the remaining counts in both cases.

         At the time of the plea agreement, it was legally impossible for Guity to have committed the crime to which he had pleaded guilty in the family court case relating to his wife. Hawai'i Revised Statutes ("HRS") § 707-732(1)(f) (2014) (defining sexual assault in the third degree as "knowingly, by strong compulsion," having "sexual contact with another person"); HRS § 707-700 (2014) (defining "sexual contact" as "any touching, other than acts of 'sexual penetration', of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person not married to the actor" (emphasis added)).[1] As the transcript of the change of plea hearing makes clear, the State, Guity, and the court accepting his plea were all aware at the time of his plea that third-degree sexual assault excluded an offense involving a spouse.[2]

         A. Circuit Court Proceedings

         Guity was represented by private counsel during his plea negotiations and at his change of plea hearing. He subsequently became dissatisfied with his attorney, who withdrew. Guity was appointed a deputy public defender; he, too, subsequently withdrew from representing Guity. On December 10, 2011, Guity notified the circuit court he wanted to represent himself.

         On January 17, 2012, the circuit court held a hearing in which it inquired into Guity's desire to represent himself on a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas.[3] Guity's explanation of his motives and readiness to represent himself was ambiguous. For example, at the very end of the hearing, the circuit court asked, "I take it that you're making a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent decision that you do not want [court-appointed counsel] to actually handle this, or you do not want to exercise your right to a lawyer and you want do it yourself." In response to that question, Guity stated, "I need a lawyer, your Honor." The circuit court responded, "[l]ook, I'm not going to play games, Mr. Guity." Nonetheless, the court agreed to allow him to represent himself with the assistance of stand-by appointed counsel. Yet the court's permission for Guity to represent himself was itself ambiguous, since the court closed the hearing by saying, "[i]f time is your problem, I'm denying your motion. Let's proceed."[4]

         Three days later, on January 20, 2012, the circuit court heard Guity's oral motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. He argued the motion pro se, with court-appointed counsel operating as stand-by counsel. Guity argued, inter alia, that during the plea negotiations (and at the change of plea hearing) his private attorney had failed to explain to him the nature of the law, including the fact that he was pleading guilty to a crime he could not legally commit in the family court case. The circuit court denied Guity's motion to withdraw his guilty pleas. The court later sentenced him to a one-year term of imprisonment for the ...


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