HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - During the shutdown in March and April, behaviors like sitting on a beach or on a bench in a park were classified as misdemeanor crimes under the emergency orders.
And an estimated 8,000 citations were issued to those violating the rules.
Now, there’s increasing concern about how those citations could clog the already overburdened courts. Experts say fighting the citations could take years because the accused are entitled to jury trials.
Defense attorney Victor Bakke said instead of being a misdemeanor, violations “need to be something that people will respect and that the system can handle.”
Deputy Public Defender Jerry Villanueva said his office has heard from high school and college students who fear a pending misdemeanor crime will affect scholarships, access to a dorms or future jobs.
“People working in the government, military folks, if they get misdemeanors on their record that could affect their careers,” Villanueva said.
And it’s not just defense attorneys that are worried.
Honolulu’s acting Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto wants the statute changed.
“Not quite as harsh, so you don’t have all those rights to a jury trial. Let’s make it a petty misdemeanor,” Nadamoto said.
But only the state Legislature can do that — and would only impact violations of future orders.
It’s too late for the thousands of tickets already issued. Nadamoto’s office will have to negotiate to avoid the massive number of jury trials.
Bakke said the delays take away the purpose of the order, deterring people from going out and spreading the virus. “Right now these citations are meaningless because all I have to do is request a jury trial and I won’t see court for two years easily,” he said.
Attorneys trying to work on the cases have found a significant number of citations aren’t even uploaded into the system yet. Even those issued in April aren’t showing up, keeping many in limbo.
Villanueva said some of the Public Defender’s Office clients have already left for college or are applying for jobs and ask him how to answer the question about pending criminal cases.
“I don’t know what to tell them, it’s still up in the air and I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” he said.