State v. Estrada, 11377

CourtSupreme Court of Hawai'i
Citation69 Haw. 204,738 P.2d 812
Docket NumberNo. 11377,11377
PartiesSTATE of Hawaii, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. James H.J. ESTRADA, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date08 June 1987
Syllabus by the Court

1. The trial court has the discretion to deny continuances and to exclude irrelevant or wasteful, time-consuming testimony.

2. Even relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.

3. Prosecutorial suppression of favorable material evidence violates due process, regardless of any good faith or bad faith.

4. No absolute privilege insulates police records from discovery. A trial judge should first conduct an in camera review of sensitive police records to fix the scope of discovery on those confidential items sought. The scope of discovery is reviewed for an abuse of discretion.

5. Bias, interest, or motive is always relevant under HRE Rule 609.1. So long as a proper foundation is laid, bias can be raised at any time by the witness's testimony or other evidence.

6. A criminal conviction can be used as evidence in a civil suit, and it is error not to allow cross-examination to reveal possible bias.

7. Because the defendant's substantial due process rights to a fair trial are implicated, we will notice plain error under HRPP Rule 52(b), notwithstanding the defense counsel's failure to timely object and bring an issue to the trial court's attention.

8. It is presumed that a jury will heed a trial court's instruction.

9. Jury instructions, as a whole, must correctly provide the controlling law. The defendant, moreover, is entitled to an instruction on every defense or theory of the defense having any support in the evidence.

10. A clearly prejudicial instruction, however, cannot be cured by other proper instructions which do not call attention to the error.

11. Ex parte jury communications are strictly prohibited. Only if the error is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt will the ex parte communication not require reversal.

12. Customarily invading the jury room without the parties' or their counsels' presence must not be tolerated: the potential for prejudicial communication is too great. Otherwise, the rule against ex parte jury communication would be meaningless.

13. In either a criminal or civil context, defendants are entitled to a fair and impartial jury trial free from prejudicial ex parte influences. On this matter of grave public concern, we admonish all trial judges not to invade the jury room during deliberations.

14. The jury is the sole judge of witness credibility and the weight of the evidence.

15. The better rule is to include in the indictment the aggravating circumstances which, if proved, would result in the application of enhanced sentencing of HRS § 706-606 (1985).

[69 Haw. 230] David Bettencourt, Honolulu, for defendant-appellant.

Artemio C. Baxa (Dave S. Fukuoka, Nancy T. Sugimura, and Larry T. Butrick, with him on the brief), County of Maui, Wailuku, Deputy Pros. Attys., for plaintiff-appellee.

[69 Haw. 204] Before LUM, C.J., NAKAMURA, PADGETT and HAYASHI, JJ., and Intermediate Court of Appeals Chief Judge JAMES S. BURNS, in place of WAKATSUKI, J., excused.

HAYASHI, Justice.

Defendant-Appellant James H.J. Estrada (hereinafter "Estrada") appeals his attempted murder conviction and life sentence without the possibility of parole for the shooting of Maui County Police Officer Keith Taguma (hereinafter "Officer Taguma"). Estrada had claimed shooting Officer Taguma in self-defense accidentally after the latter had become violent. Circuit Judge Boyd P. Mossman (hereinafter "Judge Mossman") presided over the jury trial. Estrada raises as reversible errors 1) the denial of trial continuances to investigate relevant reports of Officer Taguma's prior violent acts and abuse of police powers; 2) the rulings restricting discovery of Officer Taguma's past bad acts, employment history, plus medical records; 3) the rulings barring the admission of evidence that Officer Taguma had misused his police powers, physically abused his then-girlfriend, and lied on his employment application forms for the Maui Police Department (hereinafter "MPD"); 4) the jury's receipt of prejudicial evidence relating to his (Estrada's) unrelated burglary arrest; 5) the rulings on expert medical witnesses; 6) the self-defense instructions read to the jury; 7) Judge Mossman's a) entering the jury room to personally answer the jurors' questions, and b) not adequately responding to their questions; and 8) the imposition of the life sentence without the possibility of parole. For the following reasons, we vacate the sentence, reverse the guilty conviction, and remand the case for a new trial.

[69 Haw. 207] I.



The preliminary facts are not disputed. Officer Taguma was a receiving desk officer working the night shift at the Wailuku, Maui police station. In the early morning hours of June 29, 1985, he was assigned to get breakfast for some other police officers from the Kahului Burger King restaurant. Officer Taguma was in uniform and drove a marked police van. While returning from the Burger King, Officer Taguma stopped the car driven by Estrada. Bayani Gamit (hereinafter "Gamit") was Estrada's passenger. Both vehicles parked in the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant parking lot. Officer Taguma and Estrada got into a fight, Officer Taguma was shot with his own gun, and Estrada fled. Later that day, Estrada surrendered. Officer Taguma was treated for severe abdominal injuries at Queen's Medical Center hospital (hereinafter "Queen's Hospital").

Officer Taguma later testified he had stopped Estrada's car because of erratic driving and claimed he was legitimately investigating possible drunk driving. After discovering that Estrada had no driver's license and possessed indicia of alcohol consumption, Officer Taguma ordered Estrada and Gamit out of the car, reached into the car to retrieve an open beer can, then found a pouch containing ammunition. Without warning, Estrada began striking Officer Taguma and yelling that the latter had no right to search the car. Officer Taguma retreated back to the police van, Estrada pursued to continue the attack, a struggle ensued over Officer Taguma's gun, and Estrada shot Officer Taguma.

Estrada, however, denied any bad driving or drinking that night. He further testified that Officer Taguma had never requested a driver's license but had found a beer can in the car. After Estrada questioned

the warrantless search, Officer Taguma became enraged, said "I can do what I want because I am a policeman[,]" Transcript, January 27, 1986 at 110, assaulted Estrada (who did not resist), stepped back, and pulled out the gun to aim at Estrada. Fearful of being shot, Estrada rushed at Officer [69 Haw. 208] Taguma to prevent any shooting, both men scuffled, and the gun fired


On July 5, 1985, Estrada was indicted for attempted murder. 1 Beginning on July 12, 1985, defense counsel David Bettencourt (hereinafter "Bettencourt") sought disclosure of 1) all of Officer Taguma's personnel records and complaints against him while a Honolulu Police Department (hereinafter "HPD") officer and a Maui airport security guard; 2) all of Officer Taguma's medical records; and 3) any favorable evidence as defined by Hawaii Rules of Penal Procedure (hereinafter "HRPP") Rule 16(b). 2 After initially[69 Haw. 209] opposing the discovery request as too broad and seeking confidential or irrelevant evidence, Plaintiff-Appellee State of Hawaii (hereinafter "State") reluctantly provided discovery.

On January 6, 1986, just before the start of jury voir dire, Bettencourt orally moved

to continue the trial because of State's tardy disclosure of a police report, involving Officer Taguma's ex-girlfriend Junette L. (hereinafter "Junette"), had prejudiced the defense. She had been romantically involved with Officer Taguma from 1979 to 1984 (including living with him intermittently between 1982 and 1984) but had broken up with him because of alleged physical abuse. On April 3, 1985, she had filed a complaint against Officer Taguma for harassing her and her then-fiance [69 Haw. 210] (now husband) Stephen H. (hereinafter "Stephen"). 3 Specifically, she had charged that Officer Taguma 1) had beaten her several times prior to and during August 1983; and 2) would often use his police authority to pull over Stephen's car. Her allegations were listed in a report prepared by MPD Officer Ramsey Anakalea (hereinafter "the Anakalea Report") on August 28, 1985. Although the Anakalea Report had been given to Bettencourt on December 22, 1985, he complained State's dilatory tactics had made it impossible to prepare the defense. Bettencourt also argued that, although Junette had been initially willing to talk with him, she had later refused to testify, unless subpoenaed, after State had contacted her (the record reflects only that State had contacted her, not what was said). Judge Mossman denied the continuance request ruling adequate time to prepare the defense had existed

On January 9, 1986, prior to allowing Junette to take the stand during trial, Judge Mossman conducted an in limine hearing to determine the relevancy of her testimony. At this time, she revealed the existence of another report against Officer Taguma prepared by the Maui Prosecutor's Office Victim-Witness Counselor Dr. Brian Ogawa (hereinafter "the Ogawa Report") on September 16, 1985. State had not disclosed the Ogawa Report. Junette subsequently recanted or qualified most of her earlier accusations, but Bettencourt again orally moved for a continuance citing the necessity to have time to review and investigate the Ogawa Report. Judge Mossman denied the continuance motion, held both the...

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