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Oral Argument Before the Hawaii Supreme Court–SCWC-17-543

No. SCWC-17-0000543, Tuesday, December 8, 2020, 2 p.m.

STATE OF HAWAII, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee, vs. ADRIAN-JOHN C. BRINGAS, also known as DRIANJOHN BRINGAS, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.

The above-captioned case was set for argument on the merits at:

The oral argument will be held remotely and will be livestreamed for public viewing via the Judiciary’s YouTube channel at YouTube.com/hawaiicourts.

Attorney for Petitioner:

Phyllis J. Hironaka, Deputy Public Defender

Attorney for Respondent:

Sonja P. McCullen, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney

NOTE: Order accepting Application for Writ of Certiorari, filed 02/20/19.

NOTE: Order assigning Circuit Court Judge Rowena A. Somerville due to a vacancy, filed 07/07/20.

NOTE: Certificate of Recusal by substitute justice Somerville, filed 10/01/20.

NOTE: Order assigning Circuit Court Judge Edwin C. Nacino, in place of substitute justice Somerville, recused, filed 10/05/20.

NOTE: Certificate of Recusal, by substitute justice Nacino, filed 10/15/20.

NOTE: Order assigning Circuit Court Judge Gary W.B. Chang, in place of substitute justice Nacino, recused, filed 10/22/20.

NOTE: Order granting motion to continue oral argument from 12/02/20 to 12/08/20 at 2:00 p.m., filed 11/12/20.

COURT: Recktenwald, C.J., Nakayama, McKenna, and Wilson, JJ., and Circuit Court Judge Chang, in place of substitute justice Nacino, recused.

[ Listen to the entire audio recording in mp3 format ]

Brief Description:

Adrian-John C. Bringas was charged in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit with one count of Murder in the Second Degree and one count of Assault in the Second Degree. The State alleged that, during a series of altercations, Bringas stabbed a minor in the chest, resulting in the minor’s death, and stabbed the minor’s older brother in the leg. At trial, Bringas did not dispute the stabbings, but argued that he was not guilty because he had acted in self-defense.

The jury was instructed about the elements of the two charged offenses, the lesser-included offenses of each offense, and possible defenses. It was instructed that Assault in the Third Degree is a lesser-included offense of Murder in the Second Degree, and that mutual consent is a defense to Assault in the Third Degree. The jury was provided with a verdict form for each count, and both verdict forms included the same special interrogatory regarding mutual consent as a defense to Assault in the Third Degree. The jury was instructed that it was to answer this special interrogatory if and only if it found the defendant not guilty of the greater-included offenses, but guilty of Assault in the Third Degree.

On the verdict form for the first count, the jury indicated that it found Bringas guilty of Murder in the Second Degree, and also answered the special interrogatory, indicating that the prosecution had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the fight was not entered into by mutual consent. When the verdict was read out in court, the court clerk read only the guilty verdict, and not the answer to the special interrogatory. After the jury was excused, Bringas moved for a new trial on the basis of the jury improperly answering the special interrogatory and the answer to the special interrogatory not being read out in court. The circuit court denied the motion and convicted Bringas of Murder in the Second Degree.

Bringas appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which affirmed his conviction, holding that the answer to the special interrogatory did not create an inconsistent verdict, but was merely surplusage that the circuit court was permitted to disregard. Bringas filed an application for a writ of certiorari, arguing that the ICA erred in “(1) affirming the circuit court’s failure to resolve the jury’s inconsistent verdicts prior to having them read in open court; (2) concluding the circuit court did not err in choosing which part of the verdict forms to read and which to omit; and (3) holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying Bringas’ motion for a new trial.” The application was granted.