Topics: Appellate Review

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83 Hawai'i 109, 924 P.2d 1215 (1996)

- conviction of abuse of a family or household member. Balisbisana contends that the family court's ruling on plaintiff‑appellee State of Hawai'i's (the prosecution) motion in limine, wherein the court excluded reference to the complaining witness's conviction for harassing Balisbisana, violated his rights, under the Hawai'i and United States Constitutions, to confront the complaining witness and cross‑examine her to expose evidence of her motive for bringing false charges against him. … we agree with Balisbisana, vacate the conviction, and remand this case for new trial.

Prior to the start of the jury trial … the prosecution made an oral motion in limine, requesting that Balisbisana be prohibited from adducing evidence of prior bad acts of the complainant without an offer of proof.
[Professor's Note: The prior bad act was a conviction for harassment, a misdemeanor, HRS 711-1106. Two weeks before Balisbisana's trial, the complainant, Fujimoto, plead guilty to harassing the defendant].

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Under HRE Rule 609.1 (1993), “[t]he credibility of a witness may be attacked by evidence of bias, interest or motive....”
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Balisbisana contends that the trial court violated his right to confrontation by prohibiting cross‑examination that would have demonstrated that Fujimoto had a motive for fabricating the charges against him, that is, retaliation for her conviction. The prosecution argues that evidence of Fujimoto's conviction was inadmissible under HRE Rule 609, which provides in pertinent part that, “[f]or the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness, evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime is inadmissible except when the crime is one involving dishonesty.” We disagree with the prosecution that HRE Rule 609 is controlling.
Balisbisana was not attempting to introduce evidence of Fujimoto's conviction to impeach her general character for truthfulness. Rather, he sought to introduce evidence of the conviction for the “more particular” purpose of revealing Fujimoto's motive for falsifying charges against him.
An accused's right to demonstrate the bias or motive of prosecution witnesses is protected by the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees an accused, inter alia, the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him [or her.]” ... Davis, 415 U.S. 308, 94 S.Ct. 1105
In Davis, for example, the defendant sought to cross‑examine a prosecution witness regarding his juvenile record to show that the witness may have made a hasty identification of the defendant and otherwise assisted the investigation due to fear of possible probation revocation. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. The United States Supreme Court disagreed and reversed, stating:
We cannot accept the Alaska Supreme Court's conclusion that the cross‑ examination that was permitted defense counsel was adequate to develop the issue of bias properly to the jury. While counsel was permitted to ask [the witness] whether he was biased, counsel was unable to make a record from which to argue why [the witness] might have been biased or otherwise lacked that degree of impartiality expected of a witness at trial.... On these facts it seems clear to us that to make any such inquiry effective, defense counsel should have been permitted to expose to the jury the facts from which jurors, as the sole triers of fact and credibility, could appropriately draw inferences relating to the reliability of the witness. Petitioner was thus denied the right of effective cross‑examination.
In this case, defense counsel was not permitted to expose the fact from which the jurors could appropriately draw inferences relating to Fujimoto's motive or bias.
We therefore hold that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding evidence of Fujimoto's conviction from which the jury could have inferred that Fujimoto had a motive to bring false charges against Balisbisana and give false testimony at trial.
.. we vacate Balisbisana's conviction and remand this case for a new trial.

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