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Honolulu prosecutor says judge was wrong to acquit state Rep. Sharon Har of DUI

Steve Alm Sharon Har.jpg
Casey Harlow
/
HPR
Honolulu prosecuting attorney Steve Alm held a press conference Tuesday afternoon regarding the acquittal of state representative Sharon Har. In this picture, he describes the events of Honolulu police stopping Har on Beretania Street the night of February 22, 2021.

Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney said a judge’s ruling to acquit state Rep. Sharon Har was wrong, and the evidence was more than enough for a DUI conviction.

Honolulu prosecutor Steve Alm expressed his disappointment on Tuesday in per diem Judge Steven L. Hartley's acquittal of Har.

In February 2021, Har was arrested under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol after being stopped going the wrong way on Beretania Street — a major one-way road.

Har claimed she had a beer with dinner, and her impaired driving was a result of a bad reaction to the medication she was taking.

Alm said the evidence disputes her claims.

"Ms. Har went to AnyPlace Cocktail Lounge and was served four Miller Lites. Less than an hour later, she was caught driving the wrong way on Beretania Street, that she almost hit a moped, other vehicles had to move to get out of her way. HPD alertly stopped her, directed her to a parking lot. She tried to take a right turn onto a second one-way street — opposing traffic — the officer was able to block her with his car," Alm said.

Alm said Har also had difficulty parking her car. And when stopped, Har provided an expired car registration and was unable to find an insurance card on her phone — after 10 minutes.

Honolulu police officers on the scene testified they smelled a strong alcohol odor from Har, and she had slurred speech.

Har refused to take a field sobriety test, or a breath or blood alcohol test.

Alm said testimony from officers was corroborated with body camera footage. Additional evidence and testimony were provided by the cocktail lounge.

Despite the evidence and testimony, the defense was granted motions of dismissal and acquittal.

Alm said prosecutors had more than enough to overcome these challenges, and the motion to dismiss should’ve been made before the trial started. He said the judge’s decisions went against state precedence — and were wrong.

"The judge said this ruling was because of inconsistencies in the officer testimony, and the lack of blood alcohol content, meant the state couldn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," Alm said. "This does not follow the appropriate standard for a judgment of acquittal. Inconsistency in an officer’s testimony should be resolved in the light most favorable to the state. And the lack of a BAC reading should not have been brought up at all. Especially in this case, because Ms. Har refused to take a breath test."

Alm said due to the decision, the department cannot try Har again for this case, saying, “We have to live with this.”

Har’s only penalty comes as a result of her refusal to take a field sobriety test, or a breath or blood alcohol test — her license will be suspended for a year.

Har's attorney, Howard Luke, said he strongly disagrees with Alm's characterization of the evidence and the judge's ruling.

Luke said he wants to reassure the public the judge did the right thing.

The Hawaiʻi Judiciary declined to comment to The Associated Press when asked if Hartley could respond to Alm's criticism of the ruling.

Har represents Kapolei and Makakilo. She was first elected to the state House in 2006. She is also an attorney specializing in real estate, land use and construction litigation.

Read Alm's presentation about the case below or click here to open a new tab.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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