Prosecutors focusing on travel quarantine violators | News, Sports, Jobs

Prosecutors focusing on travel quarantine violators | News, Sports, Jobs

Maui police patrol a South Maui beach in April, one day before Gov. David Ige’s COVID-19-related emergency orders prohibited all activity on beaches. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui County Prosecuting Attorney Don Guzman says his office is giving higher priority to cases involving violations of the mandatory 14-day travel quarantine, as deputies review more than 1,000 citations and complaints issued in Maui County for violating public health emergency rules.

Guzman said “there is a difference in seriousness level between the general emergency rule violations” for inactivity at beach parks, for example, and the quarantine violations. The mandatory quarantine period applies to people traveling to the state from the Mainland or foreign countries. Starting Tuesday, the quarantine again will apply also to interisland travelers arriving on Maui and other Neighbor Islands.

For quarantine violations, “no case will be dismissed or settled without my direct authority,” Guzman said.

“We will treat these very seriously because it is a health issue, and we need to make sure we protect the community,” he said. “There will be no dismissals unless circumstances require us to dismiss due to lack of evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Most of the quarantine violation cases are being handled in 2nd Circuit Court, Guzman said.

County Prosecutor Don Guzman, shown in June, said that no quarantine violation case “will be dismissed or settled without my direct authority.” — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Most of the cases for other general emergency rule violations involve citations that have required people to appear in District Court.

Of the 1,031 citations and complaints for general emergency rule violations that were generated from March 5 to July 22, about one-third or 368 have been dismissed with prejudice in the interest of justice, Guzman said this week.

He said the prosecution is proceeding with the remaining 663 cases, which amount to nearly 65 percent of the citations and complaints.

Police have issued the citations and made arrests to enforce emergency public health orders set by Gov. David Ige and Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino during the COVID-19 crisis.

When the public health emergency rules were issued by the governor and mayor on March 5, “such provisions were unprecedented and had never been implemented in terms of enforcement and prosecution,” Guzman said.

“These were categorized as misdemeanor crimes with vague provisions for enforcement procedures,” Guzman said. “Therefore, there was a lag period of insufficient and improper issuance of citations.”

A violation of public health emergency rules is a misdemeanor charge carrying a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

In misdemeanor cases, police usually provide reports detailing the crimes, Guzman said. But most of the emergency rule violation cases were handled by citations, which at times included only a sentence or a few words describing the violation, he said.

To try to get more information, deputy prosecutors called police officers, who in many instances couldn’t recall additional details required for prosecution, resulting in dismissal of cases, Guzman said.

In addition, Guzman said some emergency rules were amended by the governor and mayor, “causing confusion and voiding previously issued citations.”

As emergency rules were more clearly defined, Guzman said the prosecutor’s office worked with the Maui Police Department to correct defective citations when feasible.

He noted that the standard of proof for police to issue a citation is probable cause, which is a lower level than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt that is required to take a case to court. As deputy prosecutors reviewed the citations, “those that we could not prove had to be dismissed in the interest of justice,” Guzman said.

“It was growing pains, and we’re more efficient now moving forward,” Guzman said.

He said citations issued to people who were homeless — with multiple citations given to the same person in some cases — also were dismissed after the governor’s sixth supplemental proclamation, which exempted homeless people from being cited for violating the stay-at-home order.

Police said most citations were issued while beach parks were closed for nonessential activities, including sunbathing, reading or watching the sunset. Fishing, swimming and exercise were among activities allowed at beaches.

Most of the citations were issued in March, April and May, with numbers declining as beaches and parks were reopened for activities.

Deputy Public Defender Ben Lowenthal said attorneys have had discussions about the legality of the emergency orders.

“We understand that the orders are designed to keep everyone safe, to flatten the curve,” he said. “But that can be done lawfully and in a constitutional way. It has to be done in a constitutional way.”

Lowenthal said a number of public defender cases involving violation of the emergency orders have been dismissed and a number have been resolved through plea agreements. Some defendants have been fined after entering pleas to lesser violations of the Maui County Code.

“It’s sad to see that early on, the only people getting convicted of the violation were those that couldn’t afford to bail out,” Lowenthal said. “What’s disturbing is those who can afford to bail can show up in court months later and be offered a plea agreement, whereas those who cannot have to plead as charged and go to jail for it. And that is an inequity we hope to address.”

In general, Guzman said those who were arrested instead of being cited for emergency rule violations also were charged with other crimes, such as disorderly conduct.

“They were individuals that were causing an imminent threat or harm to the safety of our community,” he said.

In March, as the COVID-19 crisis was developing, Guzman sent memos to Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu and the court asking that people not be held on nonviolent misdemeanor charges while officials worked to reduce jail populations to try to prevent COVID-19 spread.

Although some emergency rule violation cases were eventually dismissed, Guzman said the enforcement and citations “did in fact serve as a deterrent to those citizens not to violate again during such a period.”

He said those cited were given a date to appear in court and faced bench warrants if they didn’t show up.

Some have appeared by videoconference for required court appearances.

Police are asking people to report violations of the mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers by sending email to [email protected]

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at [email protected]

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