Fixing Hawaii's COVID-19 citation nightmare
Public defender says SB540 better than creating a new criminal class
Hawaii Together with Keli’i Akina, May 24, 2021
The state judiciary system is swamped, and thousands of residents stand to gain criminal records for violating COVID-19 restrictions
Tens of thousands of Hawaii residents have received citations since March of last year for violating the governor’s ever-changing and often-confusing COVID-19 emergency orders, which means we soon could be having tens of thousands of Hawaii residents with criminal records.
That is an emergency in itself, according to State Public Defender James Tabe, guest on Keli'i Akina’s latest “Hawaii Together” program on the ThinkTech Hawaii network.
Tabe and other judiciary officials have been trying to stave off the criminalization of so many Hawaii residents via the enactment of SB540, now awaiting an up or down decision from Gov. David Ige.
“Last summer, at one point toward the end,” Tabe told Akina, “there were 60,000 criminal citations for violating an emergency order on Oahu alone. Now, for perspective, … in 2019, the island of Oahu only had 20,000 criminal cases. Just this one type of offense has tripled that figure."
Being criminal cases, the citations have swamped the state judiciary system. For those cited, having a criminal record can be devastating, especially considering the benign nature of many of the offenses.
"I think last year (2020) was the first time we had brand new alleged criminals, so to speak," Tabe. “When you’re being charged with a misdemeanor offense like the emergency order violation, if you’re found guilty, it’s a crime. It’ll go on your permanent criminal record. This is a big deal, because if you ever fill the job application or scholarships or just questions, ‘Have you ever been convicted of a crime,’ this is something where you have to check ‘yes’ on.”
According to a legislative summary, SB540 “Allows for lesser emergency period penalties to be adopted by the governor or a mayor. Allows for the emergency period infractions to be processed under the traffic adjudication process. Allows electronic copies of notices of infractions, infraction adjudication hearings, and notices of infraction judgments to be sent via electronic mail. Grants the district court concurrent jurisdiction over emergency period rule infractions committed by minors.”
SB540: Text, Status