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Oral Argument Before the Hawaii Supreme Court– No. SCWC-17-0000226
No. SCWC-17-0000226, Thursday, January 31, 2019, 11:15 a.m.
STATE OF HAWAII, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee, vs. PATRICK WILLIAMS, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.
The above-captioned case has been set for argument on the merits at:
Supreme Court Courtroom
Ali iolani Hale, 2nd Floor
417 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Attorney for petitioner:
Taryn R. Tomasa, Deputy Public Defender
Attorney for appellee:
Stephen K. Tsushima, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney
NOTE: Order accepting Application for Writ of Certiorari, filed 11/28/18.
COURT: Recktenwald, C.J., Nakayama, McKenna, Pollack, and Wilson, JJ.
This case concerns whether Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant Patrick Williams’s (“Williams[’s]”) conviction of Assault in the Third Degree in violation of Hawai i Revised Statutes (“HRS”) § 707-712 (2014), should be vacated. Williams’s two-year-old son, over whom he had sole custody, was treated at Wahiawa General Hospital for a fractured left femur. During opening statement, the State included the following comments:
[Y]ou will find out that [Williams’s son] is subsequently transferred to another family and reunited with his mother.
You’ll meet Detective Melvin Raquedan, who assists with the transfer of custody. You’ll also meet social worker Robert Asato, who aids in the transfer from Tripler Army Medical Center after [Williams’s son] is treated and released and how he is ultimately reunited down the road with his mother.
Williams did not object to these comments at any time during trial and the court did not sua sponte strike them. The court instructed the jury both before opening statements and after the close of evidence that statements or arguments made by lawyers are not evidence.
At trial, the State sought to admit two x-rays as State’s Exhibits 3 and 4. The prosecutor handed “State’s Exhibit 3” to the diagnostic radiologist, and asked him to verify that the name, date of birth, and date of the image were “in line” with the reports he had reviewed regarding Williams’s son. The doctor agreed that “[t]hey appear[ed] to correlate.” The doctor described “State’s Exhibit 3” as showing a left femur after it had been realigned by a physician. Although the doctor did not testify that the image was of the son’s left femur fracture, he did state that it “look[ed] [like a] fair and accurate” depiction of the son’s fracture. State’s Exhibit 3 was admitted into evidence over an objection that there was a lack of proper foundation. State’s Exhibit 4, a lateral view x-ray of a left femur that had been realigned, was also admitted over the same objection.
The Intermediate Court of Appeals (“ICA”) applied a plain error analysis to the prosecutor’s comments that the mother now had custody of Williams’s son, concluding that the circuit court’s jury instructions were adequate and that the comments were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The ICA also affirmed the circuit court’s evidentiary rulings regarding the admission of x-rays regardless of the State’s improper foundation, concluding that such error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, the ICA concluded that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that Williams had recklessly caused bodily injury to his son.
Williams timely applied for a writ of certiorari on October 12, 2018, reasserting the same three issues previously raised to the ICA:
Whether the ICA gravely erred in holding that: (1) the prosecutor’s improper comments constituted harmless error; (2) the circuit court did not err in admitting the x-rays into evidence without the improper [sic] foundation; and (3) there was sufficient evidence to sustain Williams’s conviction.