HONOLULU (KHON2) — Joining us in studio is Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney, Steve Alm, to cover recent challenges posed by court decisions affecting charging and detention and the past and future of a program he started while on the bench himself: HOPE Probation.
KHON2: One of the topics everybody has been watching for months now is the status of what has become known as the Obrero charges that had to be dropped. Those are folks that the Supreme Court case came down and they said, Sorry, you’ve got to go do the charges over. Where are we at with that? That was almost hundreds on Oahu alone.
STEVE ALM: Well, recently, the Supreme Court made another decision in Deangelo, and a crisis really was averted. It’s still a challenge. But, if they had ruled the other way, then all of these folks who are in custody that are waiting to go to grand jury would have to get released. And that was 92 at the time.
KHON2: Deangelo is that second case in which they challenged the fact that you were holding them awaiting the new charge.
ALM: Right, using a rule approved by the Supreme Court. And so now, if the defense files a motion to dismiss, it will get granted because it only went through preliminary hearing. But then, we asked the judge, could you hold the person under Rule 12 G while we go to Grand Jury and indict them?
GINA: Now, it is not a stay-in-jail-forever card.
ALM: Absolutely not. And ithe Supreme Court said you really have to have a great reason to go past 60 days. But that gives us a chance. Now what has surprised me is I’ve heard a lot of defense attorneys so upset about this. They were happy with the Supreme Court the first time [with Obrero], unhappy with the second [Deangelo], but we have a grand total of, I believe, it is eight motions pending. That’s it. You would think there’d be a lot more motions filed to get their clients cases dismissed. But so far, right now, we’re looking at eight.
KHON2: Before you were the prosecutor, and you were a judge, you had a well-known program, HOPE probation. It worked. Is it still working?
ALM: It worked extremely well, because regular probation is just ineffective at changing defendants’ behavior. HOPE probation was swift in certain consequences, it has tremendous outcomes. People were getting arrested for new crimes half as often. They were failing at probation and going to prison half as often. Unfortunately, the Judiciary is no longer following the HOPE model.
KHON2: What are you going to do about that?
ALM: We have been talking to the Supreme Court. We’ve been sending letters. The public defender and I are on the same page with this. How often does that happen? We wrote a letter to Chief Justice [Mark] Recktenwald saying that what you’re doing now is really threatening public safety. Let’s go back to the old HOPE model.
KHON2: That’s something we’ll follow up on here as well. What are some of your priorities for public safety in light of the new challenges, like, the fentanyl spike and we’ll have concealed carry coming up. People might be confused about who’s a good guy with a gun who’s a bad guy with a gun.
ALM: It’s working with HPD. It’s trying to identify who are the violent and dangerous guys and trying to go after them, as well as the folks who absolutely will not stop stealing from stores. We have charged the numbers, as even though would have been a misdemeanor or a petty misdemeanor, now with habitual property offender. The first one had 161 convictions with no more than a few days in jail, so that was no deterrence. We discovered he has a terrible drinking problem. So for him, we’re going to try to get him on probation and send him to a drug treatment program because unless he stops drinking, he’s never going to stop stealing.