Most bills proposed by prosecutors, police deserve enactment
The Hawaii Law Enforcement Coalition has submitted six bills to the Legislature.
Tougher laws against sex offenses, obstruction of justice and domestic violence are sought in the Legislature by Hawaii's prosecutors and police chiefs. The proposals reflect public concern about those crimes and should receive strong consideration, but a bill to diminish the option of reckless manslaughter in cases charged as murders is dubious.
The Hawaii Law Enforcement Coalition needs to provide more explanation of the need to change the law regarding the difference between murder and reckless manslaughter. It proposes that a person who intends to cause serious injury to another person is guilty of murder instead of manslaughter if the assault created "the strong probability" that death would result.
Current law states that reckless manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, occurs when a person "consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk" that the victim will be killed, deviating from the "standard of conduct that a law-abiding person would observe in the same situation."
Most verdicts of manslaughter instead of murder result from the defendant's extreme emotional distress, usually in domestic killings. Defense claims of recklessness rarely are successful. In one high-profile case, Christopher Aki was convicted in 2004 of reckless manslaughter instead of murder for the death of 11-year-old Kahealani Indreginal, the half-sister of his longtime girlfriend. City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who asked the jury to convict Aki of murder, said at the time that while he didn't agree with the lesser verdict, it was "certainly one I can understand."
More recently, a jury in November rejected Patrick Lorenzo's claim of reckless manslaughter in the shooting death of off-duty sheriff's deputy Daniel Browne-Sanchez last February at a Kapiolani Boulevard bar, instead convicting him of murder.
The coalition also proposes to elevate many misdemeanors to felonies, such as tampering with evidence, witnesses or jurors in court proceedings or obstructing government functions, and refusal by felons to submit DNA swabs to the state for its database. Also, legislation is needed to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which set national standards for registration of sex offenders.
The prosecutors and police chiefs propose two state constitutional amendments, both of which deserve being moved to the ballot box:
» Present law provides that a witness claiming Fifth Amendment privilege can be granted immunity from prosecution stemming from the testimony. The coalition asks that legislators change it to allow prosecution of the otherwise-immune witness for perjury or false statements made in the testimony.
» In criminal trials, defendants who testify cannot be asked about previous convictions for crimes involving dishonesty, although testimony by other witnesses, including victims, can be impeached in that way. Hawaii is "virtually unique" among states in disallowing such questioning of defendants during their testimony.