172 P.3d 493 (Hawai'i 2007), 27025, Coulter v. State

Docket Nº:27025.
Citation:172 P.3d 493, 116 Hawai'i 181
Opinion Judge:Opinion of the Court by DUFFY, J.
Party Name:Michael Edward COULTER, Petitioner/Petitioner-Appellant v. STATE of Hawai'i, Respondent/Respondent-Appellee.
Attorney:Phyllis J. Hironaka, Deputy Public Defender, (Sat K. Freedman, Deputy Public Defender, with her on the brief), for petitioner/petitioner-appellant., Lisa M. Itomura, Deputy Attorney General, (Bryan C. Yee and Diane K. Taira, Deputy Attorneys General, with her on the briefs), for respondent/respon...
Case Date:November 30, 2007
Court:Supreme Court of Hawai'i
 
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Page 493

172 P.3d 493 (Hawai'i 2007)

116 Hawai'i 181

Michael Edward COULTER, Petitioner/Petitioner-Appellant

v.

STATE of Hawai'i, Respondent/Respondent-Appellee.

No. 27025.

Supreme Court of Hawai'i

November 30, 2007

)

Page 494

Phyllis J. Hironaka, Deputy Public Defender, (Sat K. Freedman, Deputy Public Defender, with her on the brief), for petitioner/ petitioner-appellant.

Lisa M. Itomura, Deputy Attorney General, (Bryan C. Yee and Diane K. Taira, Deputy Attorneys General, with her on the briefs), for respondent/respondent-appellee .

MOON, C.J., LEVINSON, NAKAYAMA, ACOBA, and DUFFY, JJ.

OPINION

DUFFY, J.

[116 Hawai'i 182] Petitioner Michael Edward Coulter seeks review of the Intermediate Court of Appeals' (ICA) January 22, 2007 judgment, which affirmed the circuit court of the first circuit's November 29, 2004 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order Denying Petition for Post-Conviction Relief. 1 We accepted Coulter's application for a writ of certiorari and vacate the judgment of the ICA.

Coulter asserts that the ICA gravely erred in affirming the circuit court order which denied his Hawai'i Rules of Penal Procedure (HRPP) Rule 40 Petition for post-conviction relief. Coulter argues that the manner in which the Hawai'i Paroling Authority (HPA) set his minimum terms of imprisonment was in violation of his constitutional rights, the applicable statute, and the HPA's own guidelines.

Because we agree that the HPA violated its guidelines in setting Coulter's minimum term, we reverse the judgment of the ICA, vacate the circuit court's order, and remand to the circuit court with instructions to order the HPA to provide Coulter with a new minimum-term hearing under Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 706-669.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Coulter's Minimum Term Hearing and Rule 40 Petition

In July 2002, Coulter pleaded guilty to one count of Negligent Homicide in the First Degree, in violation of HRS § 707-702.5 (1993), and one count of Accidents Involving Death or Serious Bodily Injury, in violation of HRS § 291C-12 (1993). The circuit court, in September 2002, sentenced Coulter to ten years of imprisonment for each count, to run concurrently.

Subsequently, in November 2002, Coulter received a notice informing him that the HPA would hold a hearing to fix his minimum term of imprisonment and explaining his rights in such a hearing. A later notice set the minimum term hearing date of January 6, 2003, which was continued until March 11, 2003 at Coulter's request. On January 7, 2003, Coulter's counsel sent copies of support letters, Coulter's autobiography, and two transcripts to the HPA for review by the HPA Board prior to the minimum term hearing.

Coulter appeared with counsel at the minimum term hearing that was held on March 11, 2003.

On March 15, 2003, the HPA issued a notice and order ("Order") setting Coulter's minimum terms of imprisonment at seven years for each count. The Order did not specify Coulter's level of punishment and the significant criteria upon which his minimum decision was based, as required by Section III of the HPA's 1989 Guidelines for Establishing Minimum Terms of Imprisonment.

Section III of the Guidelines, entitled "Issuance of Decision," states:

The Order Establishing Minimum Terms of Imprisonment (DOC #10029) will include the specific minimum terms(s) [sic] established in years and/or months, the level of punishment (Level I, II, or III) under which the inmate falls, and the significant criteria upon which the decision was based.

HPA's Guidelines for Establishing Minimum Terms of Imprisonment (1989), available at [116 Hawai'i 183]

Page 495

http://hawaii.gov/psd/documents/hpa/ Minimum_Guidelines.pdf [hereinafter, "HPA Guidelines"].

Coulter, acting pro se, filed a Rule 40 Petition challenging his minimum term order on August 21, 2003. In the petition, Coulter made six allegations, including claims that the HPA hearing did not comply with the statutorily-required procedural requirements, that the HPA violated his statutory right to be considered for parole, and that the minimum term established by the HPA violated his constitutional equal protection rights. Relevant to the present action, Coulter also challenged the Order itself, asserting (1) that he was placed into the wrong level of punishment, and (2) that the HPA failed to follow its guidelines when it set his minimum terms without stating in the Order Coulter's level of punishment or providing any written criteria upon which the HPA based its decision.

The State filed an answer to Coulter's petition on September 19, 2003 and a supplemental answer on December 4, 2003. Coulter filed replies to both answers.

On December 31, 2003, the HPA, sua sponte and without holding a hearing, issued an amended Notice and Order of Fixing Minimum Term(s) of Imprisonment ("Amended Order"). In the Amended Order the HPA set Coulter's minimum terms at seven years for each count, the level of punishment at Level III, and identified the significant factors used in determining Coulter's level of punishment as the nature of the offense and the degree of injury/loss to person. 2

The circuit court held a hearing on Coulter's Rule 40 Petition on August 24, 2004. On November 29, 2004, the circuit court issued findings of fact, conclusions...

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