State v. Kato, SCWC-15-0000329

CourtSupreme Court of Hawai'i
Writing for the CourtOPINION OF THE COURT BY POLLACK, J.
Citation465 P.3d 925
Parties STATE of Hawai‘i, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee, v. YOKO KATO, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date18 June 2020
Docket NumberSCWC-15-0000329

465 P.3d 925

STATE of Hawai‘i, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
YOKO KATO, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.

SCWC-15-0000329

Supreme Court of Hawai‘i.

JUNE 18, 2020


Myron H. Takemoto, Honolulu, for petitioner

Stephen K. Tsushima, Honolulu, for respondent

McKENNA, POLLACK, AND WILSON, JJ., WITH NAKAYAMA, J., DISSENTING, WITH WHOM RECKTENWALD, C.J., JOINS

OPINION OF THE COURT BY POLLACK, J.

The circuit court in this case precluded the defendant from presenting third-party culpability evidence because it determined that the proffered evidence failed to establish a "legitimate tendency" that the third party committed the crime. In this opinion, we reexamine the "legitimate tendency" test in light of the Hawai‘i Rules of Evidence (HRE) and subsequent decisions of jurisdictions whose decisions were considered when this court adopted the test. We conclude from our review that admissibility of third-party culpability evidence is properly governed by HRE Rules 401 and 403, without having to also satisfy a legitimate tendency test. We additionally conclude that the circuit court erred by excluding the defendant from presenting third-party culpability evidence at trial, evidence that was fundamentally important to the defendant receiving a fair trial in this case. Inasmuch as the defendant's right to present her defense was prejudicially affected by the circuit court's error, the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. We also address other contentions raised by the defendant as certain of these issues may arise on remand.

Accordingly, we vacate the conviction in this case, and the case is remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND AND CIRCUIT COURT PROCEEDINGS

Yoko Kato was arrested in connection with a stabbing that occurred on October 25, 2013, in the Diamond Head area of Honolulu, on the island of O‘ahu. She was subsequently charged by complaint in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (circuit court) with attempted murder in the second degree in violation of Hawai‘i Revised Statutes (HRS) §§ 705-500, 707-701.5,1 and 706-656. Kato pleaded not guilty to the charge and a jury trial was held.2

A. State's Case at Trial

1. Complaining Witness

The complaining witness (CW), a Japanese national, testified through a Japanese-English interpreter as follows.

In the fall of 2013, she was living in Hawai‘i to study English. During this time, she met and began a romantic relationship with David Miller, a Caucasian janitor at the Shinnyo-en Temple that she attended. Because she did not have a permanent residence, she moved in with Miller for about a month in

465 P.3d 930

August 2013, and Miller arranged for her to stay with his ex-girlfriend Yoko Kato, a Japanese national, from October 12 through 13, 2013. While staying with Kato, Kato spoke to the CW about her past relationship with Miller. After staying at Kato's house, the CW had no contact or very limited contact with Miller and broke up with him.

While in Hawai‘i, the CW used the LINE application (LINE app), an internet application frequently used by Japanese nationals, to communicate with friends and organize outings. To contact someone on the LINE app, users either put their LINE identifications (LINE ID) directly into another user's LINE app or users must know the LINE ID of the other user they want to contact. Although the CW never gave Kato her LINE ID, Kato contacted her on the LINE app to request that she return a key that belonged to Miller's bicycle.

Shortly after moving out of Kato's apartment, the CW received a LINE message from an Ai Akanishi asking her to meet and have drinks. The CW did not know Akanishi, who claimed to have gotten the CW's LINE ID from "other people." Despite feeling that the situation was odd, she agreed to have drinks with Akanishi and Akanishi's boyfriend because Akanishi said that she was a Japanese student studying English like the CW. The CW agreed to meet Akanishi for drinks at Akanishi's boyfriend's house on October 25, 2013, on Kaunaoa Street.

On that day, the CW biked to Kaunaoa Street to meet Akanishi and arrived at around 9:45 p.m. A man was sitting down on a bench when she arrived, and he directed her, in poor Japanese, to a dark corner where she could park her bicycle. The man was wearing a short sleeved shirt, pants, and a baseball hat, had brown colored arms and neck, and appeared to be Asian. When he asked her name, his Japanese did not sound good; according to the CW, it was "Japanese spoken by a nonnative speaker."

While the CW was walking her bike to the dark corner, the man stabbed her multiple times in the arm, back, and abdomen with a knife. She screamed and began running away with the man chasing her. The CW ran into the Diamondhead Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf shop, and the employees called the Honolulu Police Department (HPD). She was taken to the hospital, where she spoke to HPD Officer Gilbert Trevino in Japanese. The CW described the clothing that the assailant was wearing, and she told the officer the height of her attacker in centimeters, which he converted to 5’9".

In an interview with Detective (Det.) Nakama on October 27, 2013, she described the person who stabbed her as a male. The next day, she told Det. Nakama that the assailant could have been a woman, and that the voice was high for a male.

In describing her injuries, the CW stated that she could no longer use her arm fully and still had scars from the knife wounds and post-stabbing surgeries.3 The CW testified that she did not believe that Miller was the individual who stabbed her because he spoke good Japanese, he did not have a motive, and he did not fit the physical shape of the person who stabbed her. The CW also testified that Kato was not the person who stabbed her.

2. Other Witnesses

Emiko Morie, a woman who lived on Kaunaoa Street, testified through a Japanese-English interpreter that she observed the CW arrive and begin speaking to an individual that Morie believed was a man. Morie stated that she saw the man chase after the CW and fall. When she went to investigate, Morie testified, she discovered a flip phone where the man had fallen. Morie explained that she opened the phone and saw that a call had recently been made to a contact named "David." She stated that she called that contact, and a man answered and offered to retrieve the phone within thirty minutes. Morie said that a middle-aged Japanese woman, whom she later identified as Kato, approached her twenty minutes later and asked for the phone, but she refused to give it to the woman.

465 P.3d 931

Eli Mosher, who was talking with his friend seated outside of his church when the incident occurred, testified that he saw the CW being chased by a man who fell down. He stated that the man was about 5’6" to 5’8" with medium build. Mosher testified that he also described the person as a male in a written statement that he gave to police on the evening of the incident and when he was interviewed by Detective Nakama two days later. Mosher also said that the person could "possibly" have been a woman, although he acknowledged that he was making that statement for the very first time at trial.

HPD Officer Jonathan Locey related that he responded to the scene and interviewed the CW. He explained that because the CW could not speak Japanese, he was only able to communicate with her through hand signals and English. The officer testified that, based on the CW's statements, the suspected assailant was a Caucasian male, wearing a white or gray T-shirt, jeans, and a black baseball cap. The CW never told him that the attacker was Asian, Officer Locey stated.

HPD Officer William Ellis testified that he was investigating the scene of the incident when he was given a flip phone by Morie, who told him that she found the phone in the general area of the crime scene. Officer Ellis said that he was then approached by a woman who identified herself as "Yuri Mochizuki" and claimed that she lost her phone. The woman was able to describe and unlock the phone, so he gave it to her, the officer stated. The woman did not explain to him how she lost the phone, Officer Ellis testified, and he was unaware that the phone was connected to the incident. After giving her the phone, she went into a gas station to use the restroom and did not return although she had been requested to do so, the officer stated.4

Yui Mochizuki, Kato's roommate at the time of the incident, testified through a Japanese-English interpreter that she saw Kato's ex-boyfriend Miller at the apartment drinking beer with Kato at about 7:30 p.m. on October 25, 2013. Mochizuki explained that she left for a party about that time and got home around 1:30 a.m.; Kato was home and told her that she had lost her phone that night. Kato said that she had found an envelope at the door earlier that night containing $60 and a note written in Japanese with directions on where to find her phone, Mochizuki testified. Kato stated that she had followed the instructions, which said to go to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf shop in the Diamond Head area at 9:00 p.m., Mochizuki testified, but when she got there,...

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4 practice notes
  • State v. Was in Possession Koma Kekoa Texeira, SCAP-18-0000632
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • June 19, 2020
    ...our holding in State v. Rabellizsa. 79 Hawai‘i 347, 903 P.2d 43 (1995). This court recently determined in State v. Kato, 147 Hawai'i 478, 465 P.3d 925 (2020), that the admissibility of third-party culpability evidence is governed by the HRE Rule 401 relevancy standard and the limitations pr......
  • In re Elaine Emma Short Revocable Living Trust Agreement Dated July 17, SCWC-15-0000960
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • June 18, 2020
    ...its conclusion will not be disturbed on the ground that it gave the wrong reason for its ruling." Minority 147 Hawai‘i at 478, 465 P.3d at 925 (alteration in original) (quoting Poe v. Hawai‘i Labor Rels. Bd., 87 Hawai‘i 191, 197, 953 P.2d 569, 575 (1998) ). However, in this case the pr......
  • State v. David, SCWC-19-0000319
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • September 9, 2021
    ...about what a .252 BAC could prove, any doubt should have been resolved in David's favor. See State v. Kato, 147 Hawai‘i 478, 494, 465 P.3d 925, 941 (2020) (advising that "a trial court should resolve a close question of admissibility in favor of the defendant"). We conclude that t......
  • State v. David, SCWC-19-0000319
    • United States
    • Hawaii Supreme Court
    • September 9, 2021
    ...about what a .252 BAC could prove, any doubt should have been resolved in David's favor. See State v. Kato, 147 Hawai'i 478, 494, 465 P.3d 925, 941 (2020) (advising that "a trial court should resolve a close question of admissibility in favor of the defendant"). We conclude that t......
4 cases
  • State v. Was in Possession Koma Kekoa Texeira, SCAP-18-0000632
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • June 19, 2020
    ...our holding in State v. Rabellizsa. 79 Hawai‘i 347, 903 P.2d 43 (1995). This court recently determined in State v. Kato, 147 Hawai'i 478, 465 P.3d 925 (2020), that the admissibility of third-party culpability evidence is governed by the HRE Rule 401 relevancy standard and the limitations pr......
  • In re Elaine Emma Short Revocable Living Trust Agreement Dated July 17, SCWC-15-0000960
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • June 18, 2020
    ...its conclusion will not be disturbed on the ground that it gave the wrong reason for its ruling." Minority 147 Hawai‘i at 478, 465 P.3d at 925 (alteration in original) (quoting Poe v. Hawai‘i Labor Rels. Bd., 87 Hawai‘i 191, 197, 953 P.2d 569, 575 (1998) ). However, in this case the pr......
  • State v. David, SCWC-19-0000319
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • September 9, 2021
    ...about what a .252 BAC could prove, any doubt should have been resolved in David's favor. See State v. Kato, 147 Hawai‘i 478, 494, 465 P.3d 925, 941 (2020) (advising that "a trial court should resolve a close question of admissibility in favor of the defendant"). We conclude that t......
  • State v. David, SCWC-19-0000319
    • United States
    • Hawaii Supreme Court
    • September 9, 2021
    ...about what a .252 BAC could prove, any doubt should have been resolved in David's favor. See State v. Kato, 147 Hawai'i 478, 494, 465 P.3d 925, 941 (2020) (advising that "a trial court should resolve a close question of admissibility in favor of the defendant"). We conclude that t......

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