Second Degree Attempted Murder in Hawaii

In State v. Clark, 83 Hawai'i 289, 926 P.2d 194 (1996), the defendant was convicted of attempted second-degree murder for stabbing his wife with a knife. Id. at 291-93, 926 P.2d at 196-98. The wife told the police that the defendant had stabbed her, but later recanted this claim at trial and testified that she had stabbed herself. Id. at 292-93, 926 P.2d at 197-98. The Hawai'i Supreme Court found that it was proper for the prosecution to question the wife about two prior incidents of violence by the defendant, and ruled that such evidence was admissible under HRE Rules 404(b) and 403. Id. at 299-302, 926 P.2d at 204-207. The court held that: Where the complaining witness recants his or her pre-trial accusation against the defendant, evidence of prior acts of domestic violence involving the complaining witness and defendant is admissible, subject to the HRE 403 balancing test, to show the jury the context of the relationship between the victim and the defendant, where the relationship is offered as a possible explanation for the complaining witness's recantation at trial. Id. at 303, 926 P.2d at 208. The court in Clark also upheld the prosecution's calling of a domestic violence expert. Id. at 298-99, 926 P.2d at 203-204. However, nothing in the court's analysis suggests that its holding on the admissibility of the prior acts of domestic violence depended upon the prosecution's calling of the expert. Significantly, the court cited Smith v. State, 669 A.2d 1 (Del. 1995), in support of its analysis. In Smith, the trial court allowed the prosecution to question the defendant's girlfriend, who had recanted her allegation of rape at trial, about five prior incidents of abuse to show lack of consent and to explain why she would recant. Id. at 5. The Delaware Supreme Court upheld the admission of the prior incidents of abuse, even though there was no mention in the opinion of a domestic violence expert having testified at trial. Id.