Prosecutors, others call for tougher consequences as crime wave highlights repeat offenders

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Honolulu’s recent spike in violent crime is being carried out in part by suspects who are no strangers to law enforcement. Victims and communities are asking how are they on the street to offend again? Always Investigating dug into what needs to change to tackle this particular crime wave, and what different segments of the justice system are doing about it.

You’ve seen many of the players in Honolulu’s violent crime wave on past arrest reports and Crimestoppers alerts. They’re all too familiar to police, too, picked up in some cases dozens of times only to be out on probation offending again.

“We need to stop this,” Honolulu Acting Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto told Always Investigating. “We need to stop this revolving door where they’re giving just a slap on the wrist and they’re let out again thinking, “Oh this is the time they’re going to learn.’ Well they haven’t learned the past 4 or 5 times. Why are they going to learn now?”

Always Investigating documented the huge spike in violent crimes like robberies in recent weeks and months. Last week we asked Honolulu’s police chief and mayor, even the FBI and U.S. Attorney what they can do about it. We’re following the whole cycle from prosecutors to courts and judges, probation and parole to find out what can change there, too.

“When we charge these cases we’re going to try and get the maximum penalties we can,” Nadamoto said, “Things like extended terms, we’re going to use all those types of sentencing enhancements that we can to charge these individuals and make them know this is serious and they need to stop.”

Sitting judges cannot comment on specific cases to the media so we asked retired state Circuit Court Judge Randal Lee to weigh in.

“From the Judiciary’s perspective, they need to take these crimes equally as serious, impose substantial punishment,” Lee said. “You’ve got to send a message to these types of offenders that this will not occur, will not happen on our watch.”

That would be a change in an era of restorative justice, where it’s increasingly common for deferred not-guilty or no-contest pleas and probation to be granted instead of stiff jail time, as it was for Troy Salas before he was accused of driving toward a police officer at a traffic stop last week.

“I think you need to hold people accountable for what they do,” Lee said. “If not, what happens is, ‘Well if nothing’s going to happen to me, who cares? Who cares? I can go out and do whatever I want to do because nothing’s going to happen to me.’ The violent stuff needs to be addressed rapidly and radically.”

“In other words,” Lee added, “you need everybody to put their feet to the pedal and accelerate and start moving these things along.”

Lee says every silo in the law enforcement and justice cycle — from public awareness, to police, to prosecution — local and federal, to the courts, prisons and jails, parole and probation officers, need to collectively send this message: “If you commit crime you will be held accountable. We’re not going to give you a free pass.”

Nadamoto said he has talked to the federal U.S. Attorney, as has the police chief.

“We always work with the federal government if we can,” Nadamoto said. “We always feel that if they can get a better sentence than us or keep them in custody longer than us, we will give the case to them.”

Nadamoto says they’re also turning to what they call “intelligence based prosecution” to focus special deputies on cases that appear to be part of the same crime network. They’ll also be going for extended sentencing whenever possible.

“We have the elder laws, we have the extended term sentencing, we have the persistent offender sentencing,” Nadamoto said, “which will basically if it’s a 5 year it becomes 10, if it’s a 10 year it becomes 20. We’re not going to give these guys any type of break.”

We’re continuing to pursue answers from all other segments of law enforcement and the justice system and will follow up on how each plans to crack down on this current crime wave.

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