State v. DeCastro

81 Haw. 147, 913 P.2d 558 (Ct. App. 1996)

 

RULE:

Rule 1: HRS § 702-220 (1985) stated that it was an affirmative defense that criminal conduct was committed under the belief that the conduct or result was not legally prohibited where defendant acted in reasonable reliance on an official statement of the law contained in, inter alia, an administrative grant of permission or an official interpretation of the public officer or body charged by law with responsibility for the interpretation, administration, or enforcement of the law that defined the offense.

Rule 2: HRS § 703-302(1)(a) (Hawaii) specifies that the necessity or choice-of-evils justification defense is not applicable when one or both of the following requirements is not satisfied: (1) the defendant reasonably believed that it was necessary to commit the crime to avoid an imminent harm or evil to himself or to others, or (2) the harm or evil sought to be avoided was greater than the harm or evil generated by the crime committed.

FACTS:

A police officer, after stopping another vehicle, approached a van that defendant had been driving but had stopped. The officer wanted to see if defendant was with the other vehicle's party. Defendant, who was with his employee, argued that the officer made a statement that caused concern for defendant's safety. Defendant called 911 and obtained permission to go to his warehouse. A police pursuit ensued. Defendant was convicted of resisting a police order to stop a van in violation of Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) § 710-1027(1) (1985). He claimed two defenses at trial: that he was under a mistake of law and thus per HRS § 702-220 (1985) not culpable and that he was not culpable under HRS § 703-302 (1985) because there was a choice-of-evils justification. The trial court convicted defendant. On appeal, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

ISSUE:

Issue 1: Did defendant lack the requisite specific intent to commit the crime because he consulted with and relied on the 911 telephone operator's permission to leave the scene?

Issue 2: Could defendant assert the choice of evils justification defense based on his contention that the police officer’s challenge to engage in physical battle created in him a fear of imminent physical harm to himself.

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

Conclusion 1: A 911 telephone operator was not "the public officer or body charged by law with responsibility for the interpretation, administration, or enforcement of the law defining the offense" of Resisting an Order to Stop a Motor Vehicle. Therefore, the HRS § 702-220(4) affirmative defense was not applicable. Assuming arguendo that the operator's statement was contained in an administrative grant of permission, there was nothing on the record or in the law that supported a conclusion that it was an “official statement of law.” 

Conclusion 2: Assuming defendant actually believed that it was necessary for him to commit the crime to avoid an imminent harm or evil to himself or others, it was an unreasonable belief. The events took place with his employee present, in the early afternoon on a non-holiday weekday, in the open, on a freeway and streets that are well-traveled, and in full view of motor-vehicle occupants passing by. Also, the harm defendant sought to avoid was not greater than the harm generated by the crime committed. Police efforts to stop a motorist who refused to stop his vehicle posed serious risks of danger to the participants and others.

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