One year after the United States Congress passed the joint resolution apologizing for the United States overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government in 1993, an appeal was heard by the State of Hawai‘i Intermediate Court of Appeals that centered on a claim that the Hawaiian Kingdom continues to exist. In State of Hawai‘i v. Lorenzo, the appellate court stated:
Lorenzo appeals, arguing that the lower court erred in denying his pretrial motion (Motion) to dismiss the indictment. The essence of the Motion is that the [Hawaiian Kingdom] (Kingdom) was recognized as an independent sovereign nation by the United States in numerous bilateral treaties; the Kingdom was illegally overthrown in 1893 with the assistance of the United States; the Kingdom still exists as a sovereign nation; he is a citizen of the Kingdom; therefore, the courts of the State of Hawai‘i have no jurisdiction over him. Lorenzo makes the same argument on appeal. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the lower court correctly denied the Motion.
While the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, it admitted “the court’s rationale is open to question in light of international law.” By not applying international law, the court concluded that the trial court’s decision was correct because Lorenzo “presented no factual (or legal) basis for concluding that the Kingdom [continues to exist] as a state in accordance with recognized attributes of a state’s sovereign nature.”
In other words, the appellate court was applying the rules of evidence that applied in State of Hawai‘i courts. According to the rules of evidence, there is a presumption that the court is lawful and has jurisdiction of the case, unless the defendant provides rebuttable evidence that it doesn’t have jurisdiction. An example would be where a prosecutor files a criminal complaint against a person for committing manslaughter in traffic court. The defendant’s attorney would then file a motion to dismiss stating that the traffic court does not have jurisdiction over an allegation of manslaughter, and that the proper court would be the circuit court that has jurisdiction.
Lorenzo’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss based on the argument that his client had immunity from prosecution. So the appellate court stated that Lorenzo provided no evidence that the Hawaiian Kingdom exists as a State that would have provided for his immunity because he should have been on trial in a Hawaiian Kingdom court and not a State of Hawai‘i court. Since 1994, the Lorenzo case became a precedent case that served as the basis for denying defendants’ motions to dismiss where they claimed immunity. In State of Hawai‘i v. Fergerstrom, the appellate court stated, “We affirm that relevant precedent [in State of Hawai‘i v. Lorenzo],” and that defendants have an evidentiary burden that shows the Hawaiian Kingdom continues to exist. The federal court, in 2002, referred to the Lorenzo case as the Lorenzo principle.
The Supreme Court, in State of Hawai‘i v. Armitage, clarified the evidentiary burden that Lorenzo principle placed upon defendants. The court stated:
Lorenzo held that, for jurisdictional purposes, should a defendant demonstrate a factual or legal basis that the Kingdom of Hawai‘i “exists as a state in accordance with recognized attributes of a state’s foreign nature[,]” and that he or she is a citizen of that sovereign state, a defendant may be able to argue that the courts of the State of Hawai‘i lack jurisdiction over him or her.
What is profound is that if the appellate court applied international law in its decision, it would have confirmed the continued existence of the Hawaiian Kingdom as a State and ruled in favor of Lorenzo. International law recognizes the difference between the State and its government, and that there is a presumption that the State continues to exist despite its government being militarily overthrown. As Judge James Crawford explained, “there is a presumption that the State continues to exist, with its rights and obligations despite a period in which there is no effective government.” He also stated that “belligerent occupation does not affect the continuity of the State, even where there exists no government claiming to represent the occupied State.” In other words, all Lorenzo needed to provide was evidence that the Hawaiian Kingdom “did” exist as a State, which would then shift the burden on the prosecution to provide rebuttable evidence that the United States extinguished the Hawaiian State in accordance with recognized modes of extinction under international law, a treaty of cession.
The appellate court did acknowledge that Lorenzo, in fact, provided evidence in his motion to dismiss “that the [Hawaiian Kingdom] was recognized as an independent sovereign nation by the United States in numerous bilateral treaties” In other words, the “bilateral treaties” were the evidence of Hawaiian statehood. Therefore, the appellate court mistakenly placed the burden on the defendant to provide evidence of the Kingdom’s continued existence, when it should have determined from the trial records if the prosecution provided rebuttable evidence against the presumption of the Kingdom’s continued existence as a State, which was evidenced by the “bilateral treaties.” The prosecution provided no such evidence.
If, for the sake of argument, the prosecution argued before the trial court that the 1898 joint resolution of annexation extinguished Hawaiian statehood, it would be prevented from doing so under the rules of evidence because the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded in 1988, in a legal opinion, that it is “unclear which constitutional power Congress exercised when it acquired Hawaii by joint resolution.”
The opinion by the Department of Justice is an admission against interest, which is an out-of-court statement made by the federal government prior to the date of Lorenzo’s trial that would have bound the prosecutor from claiming otherwise. Furthermore, a congressional joint resolution or a statute are not sources of international law, and as such could not have affected Hawaiian statehood. According to the American Law Institute, a “rule of international law is one that has been accepted as such by the international community of states (a) in the form of customary law; (b) by international agreement; or (c) by derivation from general principles common to the major legal systems of the world.” Only by a treaty of cession, which is an “international agreement,” could the United States have extinguished the Hawaiian Kingdom as a State. Congressional laws are not treaties of cession.
The significance of the Lorenzo case is that the appellate court, when international law is applied, answered its own question in the negative as to “whether the present governance system should be recognized,” and that a “state has an obligation not to recognize or treat as a state an entity that has attained the qualifications for statehood as a result of a threat or use of armed force.” In other words, the State of Hawai‘i cannot be recognized as a State of the United States, which arose “as a result of a…use of armed force.” In 1893, President Grover Cleveland concluded that the provisional government, which is a predecessor of the State of Hawai‘i, “owes its existence to an armed invasion by the United States.” Therefore, a proper interpretation of State of Hawai‘i v. Lorenzo renders all courts of the State of Hawai‘i to be unlawful, and that every judgment, order or decree that emanated from any court of the State of Hawai‘i is void pursuant to the Lorenzo principle.
As such, these decisions are subject to collateral attack, which is where a defendant has a right to impeach a decision previously made against him because the “court that rendered judgment lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter.” While these decisions are subject to collateral attack, there is the problem as to what court is competent to receive a motion to set aside judgment because all courts of the State of Hawai‘i are not lawful pursuant to the Lorenzo principle.
“If a person or body assumes to act as a court without any semblance of legal authority so to act and gives a purported judgment,” explains the American Law Institute, “the judgment is, of course, wholly void.” And according to Moore, “Courts that act beyond…constraints act without power; judgments of courts lacking subject matter jurisdiction are void—not deserving of respect by other judicial bodies or by the litigants.” Furthermore, courts who were made aware of the American occupation prior to their decisions would have met the constituent elements of the war crime of depriving a protected person of a fair and regular trial.