Hawai’i Changes the Law on First-Degree Murder Again – Part 2


On Wednesday, July 6, 2016, two months after my Sisters in Crime Meeting at Makiki Library, the law changed yet again. That’s when Governor David Ige signed a bill into law that broadens the offense of first-degree murder once more.

From 2013 to 2016, the offense has been limited to rare cases in which there are multiple victims, the victim is killed by a hired killer, or the victim is under the protection of the courts or law enforcement system.

With Wednesday’s signing, first-degree murder now includes circumstances in which the defendant intentionally or knowingly causes the death of a person by restraining and using that person as a shield, holding that person hostage, or for ransom or reward.

“Up until today, Hawaii law has been very explicit about what qualifies for first-degree murder, and it is limited. Only in very rare circumstances can one be found guilty of first-degree murder,” Ige said. “This measure broadens first-degree murder to include particularly cruel and brutal circumstances.”

“Up until today,” Governor Ige? How about “only for the last three years”? Between sometime in the 80’s and 2013, first-degree murder convictions were far more common than they’ve been for the last three years. That’s because, for 30 years or more, a murderer didn’t have to kill a judge or policeman to be convicted of murder in the first degree.

A big change in 2016 is that a first-degree murder conviction eliminates the possibility of parole. This wasn’t the case in the 80’s. Back then, the parole board set the minimum sentence to be served before becoming eligible for parole. Back then, despite a conviction for first-degree murder (for which the penalty is life in prison), the killer could be out on the streets whenever the parole board decided he was eligible for parole. In Hawai’i in the 80’s, “life” meant a mere 20 years. Go figure.

The parole board let the murderer in Angel Hero out of prison in 8 years for good behavior.

Spooky, isn’t it?



  1. Steve on August 16, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Liz, here in Florida, First-Degree applies when the person planned the murder in advance. Was there pre-formed intent? Second-degree is some idiot settling an argument roadside by pulling a gun and shooting. Here, there was no pre-planning.

    I don’t know why the fine distinction.

    One thing here that I like — and which others decry — is that ALL participants in a murder are equally culpable, even if they didn’t do the actual killing. In a classic case, two thugs tried to rob an older man. Older man produced a handgun and shot and killed one of the thugs in self-defense. THE OTHER THUG WAS CHARGED WITH THE KILLING OF HIS FRIEND because that happened during the commission of a crime.

    • Lizbeth Hartz on September 14, 2016 at 2:21 am

      Thanks so much for the comment, Steve! Sorry I didn’t see it until now (WordPress used to notify me when comments arrived.)

      Interesting about the Florida law. It’s the same here in Hawai’i now; a conviction for first-degree happens if the perpetrator planned the murder in advance. I’m with you–I approve of all participants in a murder being equally culpable. That fact just might deter people from participating; at least, I hope it will.