Hawaii's Criminal Law Procedures

Legal procedures throughout the criminal process are varied and complicated, although the steps are basically the same in each state. This guide explains the basic criminal process in Hawaii.

The Arrest Process:

In Hawaii you're considered arrested when you're taken into custody because a police officer believes an offense has been or is in the process of being committed. The officer must have:

  • Probable cause or a reasonable suspicion supported by circumstances to justify the officer's belief that a crime has been committed
  • Witnessed the crime in progress, or
  • Obtained an arrest warrant to make an arrest

Most arrests involve crimes outside the home without a warrant ever being issued.

Your Miranda Rights

You must be told that you have the right to remain silent and that what you say can be used against you in court. You also have the right to an attorney, to have the attorney present during questioning, and to have an attorney appointed if you can't afford one. When speaking to officers, you may stop at anytime. If arrested without Miranda rights, everything you said may be inadmissible as evidence at trial.

Booking Procedures

The booking process is conducted at the jail to obtain personal information after an arrest. The process includes:

  • Fingerprinting
  • Mug shots
  • Confiscation of personal items

Generally, a full body search is performed and you are then placed in a holding cell.

Bail and Release

The procedures for bail and release depend on the type and severity of the charges. Bail for felonies is set higher than that for misdemeanors. In Hawaii, you can get out of jail quickly by paying the standard bail for the applicable crime or you may wait for the judge to rule on your bail. Bail hearings are separate from the arraignment phase, but can be combined with pretrial proceedings like the preliminary hearing, also known as the probable cause determination in Hawaii.

The probable cause determination should be made within 48 hours. But if you are arrested on a Friday, it will be Monday or Tuesday at the soonest before you appear before a judge. Weekends and holidays add to the time spent in jail. Probable cause hearings may be combined with the bail hearing at the discretion of the judge. The probable cause determination may also be combined with any other preliminary hearing and will be considered the defendant’s first appearance.

You may also be released on your own recognizance. A warrant for your arrest will be issued if you fail to reappear in court when summoned.

The Arraignment and Plea:

You can expect an arraignment hearing in Hawaii within a week if you are released on bond or within 48 hours if in jail, longer due to weekends or holidays. The criminal complaint, which contains the charges against you, is read at the arraignment. You reply with a plea, sometimes in a second arraignment hearing, common in felony offenses.

At the arraignment, you can plead: guilty, not guilty, no contest, or enter an Alford plea, which means you don’t admit to the act, but do admit the prosecution could prove the charge (it's treated as a guilty plea in court). If you don’t answer the plea, it’s entered for you as not guilty.

The Plea Bargain

Many criminal cases are resolved through plea bargaining—a mutually satisfactory agreement that is subject to court approval. The victim in a criminal case where a plea is reached is notified of the proceedings and has the right to attend and be heard.

The Grand Jury:

States have different procedures for determining if a matter can go to trial, either via a preliminary hearing or a grand jury proceeding. Hawaii uses a grand jury to determine if evidence is sufficient to charge a defendant. The grand jury proceeding is held in secrecy, and the defendant may not attend.

There are no preliminary trials when a plea has been reached or in petty criminal cases.

Trial Procedure and Sentencing:

The defense has the right to choose whether the case will be tried before a judge or a jury. In Hawaii, most criminal defendants have jury trial rights.

The trial process generally consists of these steps:

  • Jury selection
  • Each side's opening statements
  • Production of evidence
  • Direct, cross-examination, and redirect examination of witnesses
  • The prosecution rests after finishing its case
  • The defense may move for a motion to dismiss, which the judge usually denies
  • Defense rests its case
  • Closing arguments by both sides
  • Prosecution rebuts defense argument
  • Judge instructs the jury
  • Jury deliberates
  • If the verdict is guilty, defense moves for acquittal or new trial
  • Judge usually denies defense motion and passes sentence after verdict or at a later sentencing hearing

If you’re found guilty, the judge has sentencing discretion using guidelines, mitigating or aggravating factors, and plea-agreement provisions.

A Lawyer Is Critical

State-specific criminal law is complicated and confusing. Anyone standing accused of a crime in Hawaii should retain a criminal defense attorney for the best possible representation.

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