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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Conviction Over Severe Child Beating Tossed

HONOLULU (CN) - A man convicted of nearly killing his infant daughter in a minivan parked at the beach can get a new trial, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled, finding that police asked him to make a statement before reading the suspect his rights.

Pulumata'ala Eli was convicted in Oahu First Circuit Court in 2010 for assaulting and injuring his 7-month-old daughter in a minivan at Ala Moana Beach Park.

Eli turned himself in to police three days after the October 2007 attack. At the station, police read him his rights and recorded the statement that Eli gave. But before that interview, a detective had obtained Eli's consent to make the statement.

The court held Friday that this interaction occurred in violation of the Supreme Court's landmark 1966 decision Miranda v. Arizona, which established that statements made during a police interrogation are not admissible in court unless a suspect has first been informed of his rights to remain silent and to consult a lawyer.

"In the taped statement, Defendant told Detective that on the day of the incident, he had been 'trying to work things out' with his girlfriend in their minivan at Ala Moana Beach Park," the decision states. "Defendant said he was frustrated at the time, and that his daughter, who was sitting in the back seat, would not stop crying. He stated that he hit his daughter on the feet and slapped her on the head four times. Defendant then told Detective that he took his daughter out of her car seat and dropped her by accident. He subsequently admitted to throwing his daughter on the car seat '[f]ace first' two times."

Eli's attorney tried to exclude the statement by arguing that "the Miranda warning could not 'undo the taint' of the pre-Miranda waiver because Detective 'got the mind set of Defendant ... to talk rather than not to talk,'" according to the court.

But the trial judge ruled the statement admissible, and the jury convicted Eli of attempted manslaughter.

Eli targeted the pre-Miranda waiver again on appeal, this time to more success.

"We hold in this case that after arrest the police practice of inviting an arrestee to make a statement and to give his or her 'side of the story' or similar entreaties in a 'pre-interview' before Miranda warnings are given, violates the defendant's right against self-incrimination, article I, section 10, and right to due process, article I, section 5 of the Hawaii Constitution," Justice Simeon Acoba wrote for a close majority. "Further, we hold that under the circumstances of this case the Mirandized statement offered into evidence at trial resulted from the exploitation of the said pre-interview practice."

Though the detective did read Eli his rights before taking the statement, the majority called that warning an "interlude."

"Inasmuch as Defendant had already waived his right to remain silent by agreeing to make a statement, as indicated by the circumstances in the record and the testimony of Detective, the recitation of rights that followed the pre-interview was only a formality," Acoba wrote.

In a dissent, Justice Paula Nakayama said the majority misinterpreted the questionable interaction as a "pre-interview."

"Because I ... disagree that the asking of the initial question was an illegality that rendered Eli's statement inadmissible at trial under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, I respectfully dissent," Nakayama wrote, joined by Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald.

Eli had originally been charged with second-degree murder, but he was "impliedly acquitted" of that charge since the jury convicted him of manslaughter. As such, "double jeopardy bars retrial for that offense," according to a footnote of the opinion.

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