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State v. Estrada


[69 Haw Page 206] Defendant-Appellant James H. J. Estrada (hereinafter "Estrada") appeals his attempted murder conviction and life sentence without the possibility of parole for the shooting of Maui County Police Officer Keith Taguma (hereinafter "Officer Taguma"). Estrada had claimed shooting Officer Taguma in self-defense accidentally after the latter had become violent. Circuit Judge Boyd P. Mossman (hereinafter "Judge Mossman") presided over the jury trial. Estrada raises as reversible errors 1) the denial of trial continuances to investigate relevant reports of Officer Taguma's prior violent acts and abuse of police powers; 2) the rulings restricting discovery of Officer Taguma's past bad acts, employment history, plus medical records; 3) the rulings barring the admission of evidence that Officer Taguma had misused his police powers, physically abused his then-girlfriend, and lied on his employment application forms for the Maui Police Department (hereinafter "MPD"); 4) the jury's receipt of prejudicial evidence relating to his (Estrada's) unrelated burglary arrest; 5) the rulings on expert medical witnesses; 6) the self-defense instructions read to the jury; 7) Judge Mossman's a) entering the jury room to personally answer the jurors' questions, and b) not adequately responding to their questions; and 8) the imposition of the life sentence without the possibility of parole. For the following reasons, we vacate the sentence, reverse the guilty conviction, and remand the case for a new trial.




The preliminary facts are not disputed. Officer Taguma was a receiving desk officer working the night shift at the Wailuku, Maui police station. In the early morning hours of June 29, 1985, he was assigned to get breakfast for some other police officers from the Kahului Burger King restaurant. Officer Taguma was in uniform and drove a marked police van. While returning from the Burger King, Officer Taguma stopped the car driven by Estrada. Bayani Gamit (hereinafter "Gamit") was Estrada's passenger. Both vehicles parked in the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant parking lot. Officer Taguma and Estrada got into a fight, Officer Taguma was shot with his own gun, and Estrada fled. Later that day, Estrada surrendered. Officer Taguma was treated for severe abdominal injuries at Queen's Medical Center hospital (hereinafter "Queen's Hospital").

Officer Taguma later testified he had stopped Estrada's car because of erratic driving and claimed he was legitimately investigating possible drunk driving. After discovering that Estrada had no driver's license and possessed indicia of alcohol consumption, Officer Taguma ordered Estrada and Gamit out of the car, reached into the car to retrieve an open beer can, then found a pouch containing ammunition. Without warning, Estrada began striking Officer Taguma and yelling that the latter had no right to search the car. Officer Taguma retreated back to the police van, Estrada pursued to continue the attack, a struggle ensued over Officer Taguma's gun, and Estrada shot Officer Taguma.

Estrada, however, denied any bad driving or drinking that night. He further testified that Officer Taguma had never requested a driver's license but had found a beer can in the car. After Estrada questioned the warrantless search, Officer Taguma became enraged, said "I can do what I want because I am a policeman[,]" Transcript, January 27, 1986 at 110, assaulted Estrada (who did not resist), stepped back, and pulled out the gun to aim at Estrada. Fearful of being shot, Estrada rushed at Officer

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