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Oral Argument Before the Hawaii Supreme Court–No. SCAP-16-0000830

No. SCAP-16-0000830, Wednesday, April 24, 2019, 10 a.m.

STATE OF HAWAII, Plaintiff-Appellee, vs. JOSEPH PITTS, Defendant-Appellant.

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

Supreme Court Courtroom
Aliiolani Hale, 2nd Floor
417 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813

Attorney for Appellant: 

Walter R. Schoettle

Attorney for Appellee: 

Sonja P. McCullen, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney

NOTE: Order granting Application for Transfer, filed 08/10/18.

COURT: Recktenwald, C.J., Nakayama, McKenna, Pollack, and Wilson, JJ.

 Listen to the entire audio recording in mp3 format  ]

Brief Description:

Following a jury trial, Joseph Pitts was convicted of attempted murder in the second degree in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit and sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Pitts appealed from the conviction, and this case was transferred to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Pitts argues on appeal that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for a new trial based on juror misconduct. Pitts contended in the motion that during their deliberations jurors had received scissors and gloves to remove a pair of pants–recovered from Pitts after the incident–from a sealed plastic bag container. Testimony by a juror during the motion hearing disclosed that the pants were turned inside out and that several jurors examined three small spots of a substance on the inside of the pants of which the parties were unaware. Pitts maintains that the jury’s consideration of this previously undiscovered substance violated his right to a fair trial by an impartial jury, thus requiring a new trial.

Pitts also contends that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for a new trial based on multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct, including that the prosecutor misrepresented the testimony of its witnesses, improperly commented on Pitts’ right to be present at his trial, elicited inadmissible testimony of an alleged motive by Pitts to commit the offense, and expressed a personal opinion about the credibility of the State’s witnesses and Pitts’ guilt.

In addition, Pitts argues that the circuit court erred when it denied his pretrial motion to dismiss the indictment because the State failed to present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury that the complaining witness did not initially identify Pitts as his attacker. Pitts further contends that he was denied the right to a jury of his peers because African-Americans were systematically excluded from the jury lists and the State dismissed a prospective juror who expressed concern about the lack of African-Americans in the jury venire.

The State counters that there was no juror misconduct because the pants that the jurors examined were properly admitted into evidence without limitations, thereby allowing such use by the jury during deliberations. Alternatively, the State contends, even if misconduct by the jurors occurred, it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt in light of the evidence presented at trial. The State also argues that the prosecutor did not commit misconduct and therefore the circuit court did not err in denying Pitts’ motion for a new trial. The State maintains that the circuit court did not err in denying the motion to dismiss the indictment because the evidence that Pitts argues should have been presented to the grand jury did not negate Pitts’ guilt and was not clearly exculpatory. Additionally, the State contends that Pitts fails to show that he was denied the right to a jury of his peers and that Pitts failed to object to the dismissal of the prospective juror in order to preserve the issue for appellate review.