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New law created in wake of Supreme Court ruling that led to cases being thrown out

By Marisa Yamane

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    HONOLULU (KITV) — Prosecutors are applauding a state law that just went into effect, saying it will spare crime victims from reliving their trauma.

More than 1,000 cases, mostly misdemeanors, have been thrown out since last December because of a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling on State v. Thompson.

Simply put — if the criminal complaint or document filed in court was not signed by the victim, then the case would likely get dismissed. But not anymore, thanks to this new law.

When state Rep. Sharon Har went to court for a drunk driving charge, one of the arguments her attorney used was State v. Thompson.

The ruling from the high court came down on December 10, 2021. One month later, Har was acquitted.

“Well the judge threw it out for a couple of reasons but that was one of them,” said Honolulu prosecutor Steve Alm.

State v. Thompson was also used as an argument by the Office of the Public Defender in February for the case in which a man is charged with fondling a teenage worker at Ala Moana Center. A judge denied that motion to have the case dismissed.

However, the argument has worked in getting 1,015 cases on Oahu thrown out in just the past three months, plus hundreds more on the neighbor islands.

But that’s coming to an end thanks to House Bill 1541, now known as Act 2, which Gov. David Ige signed into law on Monday.

“This is a real win,” Alm said. “At least there’s a finite number, which is why we really are happy that the legislature moved quickly, and that the governor signed it because there won’t be any more. We have a set number to deal with.”

Under the new law, prosecuting attorneys will be able to sign the criminal complaints, rather than requiring the victim or complainant.

Alm said victims can now have more faith that their cases will go through.

“Absolutely. And that the procedures have essentially been clarified. We’re going to be able to do it in the safest way possible and not have to go back to a victim to re-sign a complaint that’s been drawn up,” Alm said.

In response to the new law, defense attorney Megan Kau, who specializes in criminal law, said: “The legislature should never make a workaround to what the Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled, but that’s our system. It’s allowed to do that.”

Kau has used State v. Thompson to get nearly twenty cases dismissed, ranging from assault, to sex assault, to domestic violence cases.

“The defense is going to argue that the law should not have been passed because now we’re allowing the government to supersede a process that was there for a reason. We want to make sure that the government cannot collude and just charge someone without an actual witness verifying and certifying that yes, this happened to me and I want to prosecute,” Kau said.

Most of the cases thrown out using State v. Thompson are allowed to be refiled, if they were dismissed without prejudice.

“And we will try our best to refile as many of those as we can,” Alm said.

However, one of the cases that cannot be refiled is Rep. Har’s DUI case because it was dismissed with prejudice.

“Because it was thrown out on the merits as well,” Alm said.

The new law is not retroactive, so any case in which a criminal complaint was filed before the law took effect can still use State v. Thompson as an argument to try to get it dismissed.

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