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State v. Wilson

Supreme Court of Hawaii

June 20, 2019

STATE OF HAWAI'I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
MARCIA D. WILSON, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.




          POLLACK, J.

         During a trial for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant, the defense counsel and the State stipulated to the arresting police officer's training and qualifications to conduct standardized field sobriety tests. This appeal arises from a challenge by the defendant to the lack of a colloquy before the trial court accepted the stipulation. Although we hold that the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) did not ultimately err in concluding that a colloquy was not required in the circumstances of this case, we provide guidance as to the proper allocation of authority between a defendant and defense counsel in light of statements by the ICA regarding defense counsel's authority to stipulate to an evidentiary matter based on "trial tactics and procedure." We further hold that the ICA erred in its alternative holding, which employed a novel test for evaluating prejudice resulting from a trial court's acceptance of a stipulation without a colloquy.


         On September 2, 2014, the State filed a complaint in the District Court of the Second Circuit (district court) charging Marcia Wilson with operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant (OVUII) in violation of Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) §§ 291E-61(a)(1)[1] and 291E-61(b), [2] as well as refusal to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test in violation of HRS §§ 291E-15[3] and 291E-68.[4] A bench trial began on May 15, 2015, with the proceedings thereafter continued to July 15, 2015.[5]

         The only witness that the State called to testify was Officer Jun Hattori. Prior to Officer Hattori taking the stand, the following exchange occurred:

[THE PROSECUTOR]: So, your Honor, after discussing this case with the Public Defender, at this time I believe we're going to stipulate to Officer Hattori's training, that he followed the standards and guidelines and requirements of the [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)] Manual. It was supervised by a NHTSA Certified Instructor.
Officer Hattori's qualified and certified to conduct the standard--standardized field sobriety tests and that he received specialized training in administering and grading all of the standard field sobriety tests.
THE COURT: All right.
[THE PROSECUTOR]: And just for the record, your Honor, when I call Officer Hattori, he'll briefly tell the Court what training he has received.
THE COURT: All right.

         The court did not engage in a colloquy with Wilson before accepting this stipulation.

         Officer Hattori testified that on August 8, 2014, around 11:15 p.m., he initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle driven by Wilson. The officer stated that Wilson's speech was slurred and mumbled and her eyes were red. Officer Hattori related that he asked Wilson if she would participate in a standardized field sobriety test (SFST), and she agreed.

         The officer testified that he then administered the three tests that comprise the SFST: the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-legged stand test. Officer Hattori testified that he observed a total of thirteen "validated clues" during the SFST, which he said demonstrated that Wilson was impaired. These included six clues on the HGN test, four on the walk-and-turn test, and three on the one-legged stand test. Based on her performance, Officer Hattori concluded that Wilson was "impaired to the point where it was unsafe for her to be operating a vehicle," and he therefore arrested Wilson for OVUII.

         Officer Hattori testified that he transported Wilson to the Kihei Police Station after she was arrested, where he informed her of the implied consent law and gave her a form on which to indicate whether she would submit to a breath or blood alcohol test.[6] Wilson declined to submit to any test and marked the box on the form indicating that she had refused.[7]

         Following Officer Hattori's testimony, the State rested its case-in-chief. The defense called Joelle Lindly, Wilson's coworker, who was with Wilson on the night that she was arrested. Lindly testified that after their shifts ended, she saw Wilson have one glass of wine at the bar and then leave to go home.

         At the close of evidence, the court found Wilson guilty of both charges. On the OVUII offense, the district court sentenced Wilson to 72 hours of community service, a $250 fine, a substance abuse evaluation, and a fourteen-hour substance abuse rehabilitation program. On the refusal charge, Wilson was sentenced to pay $180 in fines and fees. The court entered judgment on the same day. Wilson filed a timely notice of appeal.


         On appeal, Wilson argued that the district court erred by not engaging her in a colloquy before accepting the stipulation as to Officer Hattori's qualifications. Wilson contended that the stipulation was a waiver of her constitutional right to confrontation and that the district court was therefore required to determine whether the waiver was made knowingly and voluntarily.

         Wilson asserted that, under our precedents, a trial court must engage in a colloquy with the defendant when the defendant waives a fundamental right--here, the right to confront a witness--to ensure that the waiver is being knowingly and voluntarily given. (Citing Tachibana v. State, 79 Hawai'i 226, 900 P.2d 1293 (1995); State v. Murray, 116 Hawai'i 3, 169 P.3d 955 (2007).) Thus, she concluded that defense counsel's tactical decisions and trial strategy are not relevant in applying "the underlying rule that fundamental constitutional rights may only be waived by the defendant," and any cases that have suggested otherwise are no longer viable. (Citing State v. Casey, 51 Haw. 99, 101, 451 P.2d 806, 808 (1969).)

         The ICA affirmed Wilson's OVUII conviction and held that the trial court was not required to engage in a colloquy with Wilson before accepting the stipulation regarding Officer Hattori's qualifications. State v. Wilson, 141 Hawai'i 459, 467, 413 P.3d 363, 371 (App. 2018). Relying on State v. El'Ayache, 62 Haw. 646, 618 P.2d 1142 (1980), the ICA reasoned that stipulations like the one in this case make the trial process more efficient and avoid "time-consuming and needless presentation of evidence on matters that are undisputed." Wilson, 141 Hawai'i at 467, 413 P.3d at 371. If trial courts were required to engage in a colloquy for every stipulation, the ICA stated, then the trial process would be burdened. Id. Additionally, the ICA asserted that if defendants were given veto power over every stipulation, such a process would "interfere with the role of defense counsel to exercise appropriate judgment in trial tactics and procedure." Id.

         Next, the ICA reasoned that, under this court's decision in State v. Murray, a colloquy is required before a court accepts an evidentiary stipulation only where the defendant stipulated to an essential element of the charged offense. Id. (citing Murray, 116 Hawai'i at 10-14, 169 P.3d at 962-66). The ICA explained that the stipulation regarding Officer Hattori's qualifications did not constitute an essential element of OVUII, but instead it was a stipulation that is routinely agreed to by parties to avoid unnecessary consumption of time. Id. The ICA also appeared to conclude that, even if the lack of colloquy was in error, Wilson failed to establish sufficient prejudice from the mistake to warrant vacating her convictions, stating, "Wilson makes no showing that absent the stipulation, the State would have been unable to establish Officer Hattori's qualifications to administer field sobriety tests."[8] Id.

         III.STANDARD OF ...

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