In re Doe

Decision Date11 July 2003
Docket Number No. 24036., No. 24042
PartiesIn the Interest of John DOE, Born on January 25, 1985, Petitioner-Appellant. In the Interest of John DOE, Born on January 28, 1983, Petitioner Appellant.
CourtHawaii Supreme Court

Jon N. Ikenaga, Deputy Public Defender, on the briefs, for the petitioners-appellants John Doe, Born on January 25, 1985, and John Doe, Born on January 28, 1983.

Mangmang Qiu Brown, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, on the briefs, for the respondent-appellee, State of Hawai`i.

MOON, C.J., LEVINSON and NAKAYAMA, JJ., and Circuit Judge KOCHI, assigned by reason of vacancy, with ACOBA, J., dissenting.

Opinion of the Court by LEVINSON, J.

The petitioners-appellants John Doe, born January 25, 1985 [hereinafter, "Minor 1"], in No. 24036, and John Doe, born on January 28, 1983 [hereinafter, "Minor 2"], in No. 24042 [hereinafter, collectively, "the Minors"], appeal from the orders of the Family Court of the First Circuit, the Honorable Frances Q.F. Wong presiding, denying their petitions for writs of habeas corpus, filed on January 12, 2001, in which they challenged their detention by the family court. The Minors argue that the family court erred in denying their petitions because, during their initial detention hearings in the family court, the Honorable William J. Nagle, III, presiding, "there was no factual basis for a probable cause determination to justify continued detention[;]" accordingly, the Minors pray that this court "find that the family court erred in denying their petitions for writs of habeas corpus based on the failure of the court at the initial hearing to make a determination of probable cause for continued detention beyond twenty-four hours."1

For the reasons discussed infra in section II, we hold that the Minors' consolidated appeals are moot.


On December 6, 2000, the prosecution filed petitions alleging that the Minors came within the purview of HRS § 571-11(1) (1993),2 on the basis that they allegedly committed or attempted to commit the offense of assault in the third degree, in violation of HRS § 707-712(1)(a) (1993). The same day, the Minors entered denials of the prosecution's charges and the family court, the Honorable William J. Nagle, III, presiding, found that there were sufficient facts to require continued detention of the Minors until their trials on December 12, 2000.

The next day, December 7, 2000, both minors filed petitions for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant, inter alia, to HRS § 660-3 (1993),3 in which they argued that they were being held illegally because the family court had not been presented with any evidence upon which it could base its finding that probable cause existed to detain them. In the affidavit that the Minors' counsel filed with each of their petitions, counsel attested that, although Judge Nagle had found that "probable cause existed to detain the [M]inor[s] until trial[,]" "no evidence of any kind was presented to Judge Nagle to support the finding of probable cause[.]"

The family court conducted a consolidated hearing on the petitions on December 11, 2000. The prosecution argued that, because Minor 1 had not objected "when Judge Nagle did find probable cause ... to hold the minor," he had waived his right to challenge the family court's determination of probable cause or had impliedly "agreed that there was probable cause to hold him at that point." In addition, the prosecution suggested that the family court could "cure" any alleged error in Judge Nagle's determination by reviewing the police reports regarding the Minors and making a new determination of probable cause. Counsel for the Minors contended that, pursuant to Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 95 S.Ct. 854, 43 L.Ed.2d 54 (1975), the family court was required to base its determination on facts and circumstances submitted to the court, not just a complaint, regardless of whether the minor requested it or not, and that the error could not be cured.

The family court subsequently reviewed the police reports regarding each minor's case and found that probable cause existed to believe that the Minors fell within the purview of HRS § 571-11, see supra note 1.4 Accordingly, the circuit court orally ruled as follows:

Insofar as the writ of habeas corpus points to ... lack of legal foundation for the probable cause decisions which were made at the time of detention, that's cured. And I do not find that—that an appropriate remedy would be therefore to release the kids.
Insofar as the writ challenges family court's ... basic authority to deal with these kids, I had already ruled on that, that regardless of the new charges and any defects that—that might have occurred with the two charges, that notwithstanding that[,] that given the [probation] status of each kid, each of these two juveniles, that the Court did have independent authority in any case to hold them.

In addition, the family court ruled that Hawai`i Rules of Penal Procedure (HRPP) Rule 5 (2001),5 which the Minors urged the family court to consider, was inapplicable to family court proceedings. Consequently, the family court denied the Minors' petitions.

On December 12, 2000, the family court filed a decree regarding the prosecution's petition concerning Minor 1's law violation, in which it found that "the material allegations of [Minor 1's] petition have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt and that [Minor 1] is a law violator within the purview of HRS [§ ] 571-11(1)." The family court's decree noted, however, that the charge against Minor 1 had been "[a]mended to [a]ffray," pursuant to HRS § 707-712(2). The family court transferred further disposition of Minor 1's case to the third circuit court. As for Minor 2, the family court dismissed the prosecution's petition with prejudice.

On January 12, 2001, the family court entered its written orders denying the Minors' petitions for writs of habeas corpus; on January 17, 2001, the Minors filed notices of appeal from the family court's January 12, 2001 written orders. The Minors' appeals were subsequently consolidated.


It is well settled in Hawai`i that

[a] case is moot where the question to be determined is abstract and does not rest on existing facts or rights. Thus, the mootness doctrine is properly invoked where "events ... have so affected the relations between the parties that the two conditions for justiciability relevant on appeal—adverse interest and effective remedy—have been compromised."

Okada Trucking Co., Ltd. v. Board of Water Supply, 99 Hawai`i 191, 195-96, 53 P.3d 799, 803-04 (2002) (quoting CARL Corp. v. State, Dep't of Educ., 93 Hawai`i 155, 164, 997 P.2d 567, 576 (2000) (quoting In re Application of Thomas, 73 Haw. 223, 226, 832 P.2d 253, 254 (1992) (quoting Wong v. Board of Regents, University of Hawai`i, 62 Haw. 391, 394, 616 P.2d 201, 203-04 (1980)))). The Minors urge this court to hold that the family court erred in denying their habeas petitions, but we are unable to discern any adverse interest or effective remedy in the present matter at this time, inasmuch as the family court has adjudged Minor 1 to be a law violator within the purview of HRS § 571-11(1) and has dismissed the petition regarding Minor 2 with prejudice. Although the Hawai`i appellate courts have never specifically addressed the question, it is widely acknowledged in other jurisdictions that, absent unusual circumstances, any defects in a pretrial determination of probable cause are rendered moot, or are without any effective remedy, which is much the same thing,6 by a subsequent conviction, see Blue v. United States, 342 F.2d 894, 901 (D.C.Cir.1965)

(rejecting a juvenile's challenge to pretrial detention in light of the subsequent trial in which he was adjudged guilty of the charges); People v. Alexander, 663 P.2d 1024, 1025 n. 2 (Colo. 1983) ("Absent unusual circumstances ... [,] any issue as to the presence of probable cause is rendered moot by the jury's guilty verdict."); State v. Mitchell, 104 Idaho 493, 660 P.2d 1336, 1343 (1983) (holding that a magistrate's reliance upon inadmissible evidence to establish probable cause "is not a ground for vacating a conviction where the appellant received a fair trial and was convicted, and there is sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction"); State v. West, 223 Neb. 241, 388 N.W.2d 823, 829 (1986) (noting that "any error ... in ruling on a plea in abatement is cured by a subsequent finding by the jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt"); Commonwealth v. McCullough, 501 Pa. 423, 461 A.2d 1229, 1231 (1983) (holding that an error in appellant's preliminary hearing is "immaterial where at the trial the Commonwealth met its burden of proving the underlying felony beyond a reasonable doubt"), or a dismissal of the charges, see Bell v. Dillard Dept. Stores, Inc., 85 F.3d 1451, 1456 (10th Cir.1996) (noting that, "[a]fter the dismissal of the charges at trial, an appeal of the probable cause determination would be subject to dismissal as moot"); see also Spriggs v. Wilson, 467 F.2d 382, 384-85 (D.C.Cir.1972) (holding that an appeal challenging pretrial police line-up procedures was moot because the "appellant was acquitted of all charges that were not dismissed by the Government"). We agree.7

The Minors do not deny that their cases are moot,8 nor do they contend that the family court's alleged error prejudiced them in any way;9 instead, they claim that this court should review their cases on the basis that the matters presented are "of substantial public concern and capable of repetition, yet evading review," and, consequently, represent an exception to the mootness doctrine. We disagree.

This court has "recognized an exception to the mootness doctrine in cases involving questions that affect the public interest and are capable of repetition yet evading review." Okada Trucking Co., 99 Hawai`i at 196, 53 P.3d at 804 (citations and internal quotation signals omitte...

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