WAILUKU - In a case that centers on the constitutional right to be represented by an attorney, a lawyer for a Wailuku man argued Thursday that a 2nd Circuit judge didn't have good reason to deny the defendant's request to have his sentencing delayed for three weeks so a new attorney could represent him.
"I think the record as a whole shows an abuse of discretion," said attorney Hayden Aluli, representing Stephen Cramer Jr. "When the court said no, it ended."
But Deputy Prosecutor Artemio Baxa said that the judge had a responsibility to ensure "the orderly and timely administration of justice."
Maui defense attorney Hayden Aluli states his case in state v. Cramer before the Hawaii Supreme Court on Thursday morning in the Baldwin High School Auditorium. Shown are Associate Justices Richard Pollack (from right) and Simeon Acoba Jr., Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, and Associate Justices Paula Nakayama and Sabrina McKenna.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"We maintain in this case there was no wrongful denial of the counsel of choice under the facts," Baxa said.
The two attorneys were allotted 30 minutes each for oral arguments before the Hawaii Supreme Court, convening on Maui for the first time since the mid-1800s.
About 470 students from seven Maui high schools, as well as attorneys and community members, filled the Baldwin High School Auditorium for the historic court session. Sheriff's deputies searched those entering the auditorium, where police officers and security were posted.
After the arguments, the justices took the case under advisement, with an opinion to be issued later at an unspecified date.
Cramer, 27, was arrested in 2007 after police executed search warrants for him, his car and his apartment, finding a quantity of crystal methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia and marijuana.
He was admitted into the Maui Drug Court program of treatment and supervision in 2009 and could have had the charges dismissed if he had successfully completed the program, Aluli said.
But he didn't complete Drug Court, dropping out in August 2010 when a motion to terminate his participation had been filed. He was convicted of the charges Nov. 4, 2010.
Cramer had been represented by a court-appointed deputy public defender.
But on his original sentencing date of Jan. 6, 2011, Aluli also appeared as Cramer's privately hired attorney and asked to be allowed to replace the court-appointed attorney if the sentencing would be delayed for three weeks.
The deputy prosecutor said the state was ready to proceed with sentencing, and Judge Shackley Raffetto denied Aluli's request as untimely.
As it turned out, Cramer's sentencing was delayed for five days over the issue of whether he was eligible to be sentenced to probation under a law that applies to first-time nonviolent drug offenders.
On Jan. 11, 2011, the judge found that Cramer wasn't eligible based on a Family Court order for protection filed against him. Cramer was sentenced to a 10-year prison term.
After Cramer appealed his sentence, the state Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled that the judge didn't abuse his discretion, and that there was no violation of Cramer's constitutional right to be represented by an attorney of his choice.
Cramer then asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to review the appeals court order, and the oral arguments were scheduled.
Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald asked Aluli whether the fact that his request wasn't made sooner should weigh against granting a delay in the sentencing.
"That's one of the factors the trial court can look at," Aluli said.
But Aluli said he had acted efficiently and appropriately and wanted to represent Cramer "but I could not do so unless I could have adequate time to prepare."
With no witnesses for the sentencing hearing, no state opposition to the delay and no previous requests for delays, Aluli said it was a constitutional violation to not grant the delay and to not allow him to represent Cramer.
Noting that an experienced judge made the ruling, Associate Justice Simeon Acoba Jr. said: "Without having to lay out every single reason, the judge said it was untimely. We can all understand that reason."
Aluli responded: "When a court is trying to exercise its discretion, there must be a record."
Associate Justice Paula Nakayama asked Aluli: "Don't you have an obligation to bring to the attention of the court the factors you think the court should take into consideration?"
Aluli said the trial judge had issued a "flat no."
"I think it would be unfair for a defense counsel to place himself in a situation of being irritating to the court," Aluli said.
During his argument, Baxa said Aluli's request to represent Cramer and delay the sentencing "was made at the very last day, the date assigned by the trial court for sentencing."
Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna asked why it wasn't an abuse of discretion for the trial judge to deny Aluli's request for a three-week delay.
"What was so pressing here?" she asked. "There were no witnesses. Obviously, this defendant had bonded out, was free on bail. Even after the trial, there was a two-month gap in sentencing. Therefore, it doesn't appear safety of the community was a concern. So what was the court's need here?"
Baxa responded: "In this case, we main-tain that the trial court had an interest in maintaining the orderly administration of justice and the timely administration of justice."
McKenna said that the Supreme Court has held that the right to private counsel is important. "It's important for the community to feel justice is being done," she said.
For a defendant to accept what he is sentenced to, "it's much better if the sentence is imposed by the counsel he chose," she said. "And, in fact, because the defendant was not sentenced through the counsel of his choice, we are here."
Baxa said that Cramer "addressed the Circuit Court at length" during his sentencing. "If he really wanted the substitution of counsel," why didn't Cramer make the request sooner, Baxa asked.
He also cited "the legal principle that says justice delayed is justice denied."
Aluli argued that the trial judge's "arbitrary, unreasonable denial" amounted to a violation of Cramer's constitutional rights.
Aluli said Cramer would qualify for probation and asked the court to send the case back to 2nd Circuit Court for sentencing before another judge.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.