State v. Dudoit

Decision Date09 June 1999
Docket NumberNo. 21417.,21417.
PartiesSTATE of Hawai`i, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Mervin DUDOIT, Jr., Defendant-Appellant.
CourtHawaii Supreme Court

John N. Ikenaga, Deputy Public Defender, on the briefs, for the defendant-appellant Mervin Dudoit, Jr.

Jerry W. Hupp, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, on the briefs, for the plaintiff-appellee State of Hawai`i.


Opinion of the Court by LEVINSON, J.

The defendant-appellant Mervin Dudoit, Jr. appeals solely with regard to his sentence in connection with his conviction of two counts of abuse of a family or household member, in violation of Hawai`i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 709-906 (Supp.1997).1 On appeal, Dudoit argues that the family court erred in sentencing him to a mandatory thirty-day jail term for the second count of the complaint, pursuant to the "repeat offender" provision of HRS § 709-906(5)(b), see supra note 1, because (1) the legislative history of HRS § 709-906(5) establishes that the legislature intended that the repeat offender provision apply only to offenses occurring after prior convictions of a violation of the statute, (2) the repeat offender provision cannot apply to offenses committed on the same day, and/or (3) the repeat offender provision cannot apply to offenses occurring within a short time of each other. We disagree with all of Dudoit's contentions. Accordingly, we affirm the family court's judgment, guilty conviction, and sentence.


Dudoit was charged by way of a complaint, filed on October 2, 1997, with two counts of abuse of a family or household member in violation of HRS § 709-906. The complaint alleged that, on September 14, 1997, Dudoit "did intentionally, knowingly or recklessly engage in and cause physical abuse of a family or household member," naming, in two separate counts, Josette Dudoit (Count I) and Michelle Dudoit (Count II) as his victims.

On January 8, 1998, the family court conducted a change of plea hearing. In connection with Dudoit's plea of no contest as to both charges, the prosecution recited the following factual basis:

This occurred on September 14th, 1997 in the morning hours, about 9 a.m.
The defendant had come home the night before at about 3 a.m. His wife had locked the door, so the defendant slept on the back deck. When his wife woke up, she did go outside and attempted to wake the defendant up and was asking the defendant for their son's money. Apparently, the defendant said he had the money but he didn't produce the money. So there was some argument about the money.
They all then went into the house. While in the house, the defendant kicked the victim when the victim was by the icebox. He kicked the icebox door into the victim and it hit her in the left arm area. He then also kicked her in the arm causing a big bruise from her elbow to her shoulder on her left arm that lasted for more than one week.
At that time, the victim's daughter, Michelle, went to try to stop her father from beating up on the mom. Michelle grabbed the father and they then got into a fight. The father pulled Michelle's hair and punched her in the head about two to three times . . . ,at which time the mom then intervened, stopped the two of them from fighting, was able to get the daughter, and they ran over to their neighbor's house, which is also her brother's home.
A short time later, the defendant went to the brother-in-law's house and again got into another fight with . . . both victims. He kicked the daughter in the back. An independent witness then saw that and ran to help the daughter. The defendant had the daughter by the hair at that time. His wife was in the house. The independent witness was able to break up the defendant from his daughter.
When the mom came outside, she then. . . spit in the defendant's face and started to yell at him. And then he grabbed her by the hair and began slapping her on the head at the brother-in-law's house.
The independent witness then told the defendant to leave, at which time he did, and the police were called.
The defendant has no prior criminal record other than these charges. And with regard to the injuries inflicted on Michelle, she did complain of pain to her head area where her hair had been pulled and punched, and she did have small scratch marks on the inside of her right arm which she complained of pain to.

The family court accepted Dudoit's no contest pleas and turned to the issue of sentencing. The parties disputed whether the "repeat offender" provision of HRS § 709-906(5) applied to Count II. The family court continued the sentencing hearing in order to study the issue further. On February 6, 1998, the family court conducted a final hearing on the issue. After hearing further arguments, the family court ruled that, by employing the terms "first offense" and "second and any other subsequent offense," HRS § 709-906 applies to the commission of successive violations of the statute, rather than to convictions of such violations. Although the family court acknowledged that the legislative history of the statute, as amended, suggested that the legislature had intended the repeat offender provision of HRS § 709-906 to pertain to subsequent convictions, it concluded that the statutory language, as actually enacted, "failed relatively miserably" to achieve that end. Accordingly, the family court ruled that Count II of the complaint was a "second offense" for purposes of HRS § 709-906(5) and that it was "compelled to issue the 30 day sentence" with respect to that count. The family court sentenced Dudoit to probation for a period of one year, subject, as one condition of probation, to incarceration of forty-eight hours in conjunction with Count I and thirty days in conjunction with Count II.

The family court's judgment was filed on February 9, 1998. Dudoit timely appealed on March 9, 1998.2

A. Sentencing

"The authority of a trial court to select and determine the severity of a penalty is normally undisturbed on review in the absence of an apparent abuse of discretion or unless applicable statutory or constitutional commands have not been observed." State v. Valera, 74 Haw. 424, 439, 848 P.2d 376, 383, reconsideration denied, 74 Haw. 650, 853 P.2d 542 (1993).

State v. Davia, 87 Hawai`i 249, 253-54, 953 P.2d 1347, 1351-52 (1998) (quoting State v. Cornelio, 84 Hawai`i 476, 483, 935 P.2d 1021, 1028 (1997) (quoting State v. Gaylord, 78 Hawai`i 127, 143-44, 890 P.2d 1167, 1183-84 (1995))). "An abuse of discretion occurs if the trial court has clearly exceeded the bounds of reason or has disregarded rules or principles of law or practice to the substantial detriment of a party litigant." Id. at 253, 953 P.2d at 1351 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

B. Interpretation Of A Statute
"The interpretation of a statute. . . is a question of law reviewable de novo." State v. Arceo, 84 Hawai`i 1, 10, 928 P.2d 843, 852 (1996) (quoting State v. Camara, 81 Hawai`i 324, 329, 916 P.2d 1225, 1230 (1996) (citations omitted)). See also State v. Toyomura, 80 Hawai`i 8, 18, 904 P.2d 893, 903 (1995); State v. Higa, 79 Hawai`i 1, 3, 897 P.2d 928, 930, reconsideration denied, 79 Hawai`i 341, 902 P.2d 976 (1995); State v. Nakata, 76 Hawai`i 360, 365, 878 P.2d 699, 704, reconsideration denied, 76 Hawai`i 453, 879 P.2d 558 (1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1147, 115 S.Ct. 1095, 130 L.Ed.2d 1063 (1995).
Gray v. Administrative Director of the Court, 84 Hawai`i 138, 144, 931 P.2d 580, 586 (1997) (some brackets added and some in original). See also State v. Soto, 84 Hawai`i 229, 236, 933 P.2d 66, 73 (1997). Furthermore, our statutory construction is guided by established rules:
When construing a statute, our foremost obligation is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature, which is to be obtained primarily from the language contained in the statute itself. And we must read statutory language in the context of the entire statute and construe it in a manner consistent with its purpose.
When there is doubt, doubleness of meaning, or indistinctiveness or uncertainty of an expression used in a statute, an ambiguity exists. . . .
In construing an ambiguous statute, "the meaning of the ambiguous words may be sought by examining the context, with which the ambiguous words, phrases, and sentences may be compared, in order to ascertain their true meaning." HRS § 1-15(1) (1993). Moreover, the courts may resort to extrinsic aids in determining legislative intent. One avenue is the use of legislative history as an interpretive tool.
Gray, 84 Hawai`i at 148, 931 P.2d at 590 (quoting State v. Toyomura, 80 Hawai`i 8, 18-19, 904 P.2d 893, 903-04 (1995)) (brackets and ellipsis points in original) (footnote omitted). This court may also consider "the reason and spirit of the law, and the cause which induced the legislature to enact it . . . to discover its true meaning." HRS § 1-15(2) (1993). "Laws in pari materia, or upon the same subject matter, shall be construed with reference to each other. What is clear in one statute may be called upon in aid to explain what is doubtful in another." HRS § 1-16 (1993).

State v. Stocker, 90 Hawai`i 85, 90-91, 976 P.2d 399, 404-05 (1999) (quoting Ho v. Leftwich, 88 Hawai`i 251, 256-57, 965 P.2d 793, 798-99 (1998) (quoting Korean Buddhist Dae Won Sa Temple v. Sullivan, 87 Hawai`i 217, 229-30, 953 P.2d 1315, 1327-28 (1998))).

A. The Repeat Offender Provision Of HRS § 709-906(5) Applies To The Commission Of Successive Violations Of HRS § 709-906 And Not Merely To Successive Convictions Of Such Violations.

The legislature added the "repeat offender" language to HRS § 709-906(5) in 1992. See 1992 Haw. Sess. L. Act 290, § 7 at 750 (hereinafter, "Act 290"). In addition to the amendment to HRS § 709-906, Act 290 also amended, inter alia, HRS §§ 580-10 (relating to permanent restraining orders)...

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