HEAVY HITTERS BAT FOR MULTIPLE OFFENDER
LIHU'E - What could possibly make a state judge and two attorneys go to bat for a young woman accused of several crimes including trafficking methamphetamine?
Maxine Constantino, 22, who has been at Kaua'i Community Correctional Center in Wailua for several months and was facing lots of potential prison time for crimes including drug-trafficking, theft, driving without a license, promoting dangerous and detrimental drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia, could easily have been looking down the barrel of a long prison sentence.
Instead, compassion recently crept into 5th Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe's courtroom here. Because Constantino showed what appeared to Watanabe and Constantino's attorneys as a sincere attempt to get herself into a residential drug-treatment program, she was given five years probation, with the caveat that she can be released from some of her one-year prison sentence if she gets into a residential drug-treatment program.
"I'm not ready to give up on you," Watanabe told Constantino, tempering her compassion by adding that the judge was ready to impose long prison terms on Constantino for a 2005 theft charge and 2008 drug charges.
"You're not a stranger to this court. You've been doing drugs," running around, committing other crimes, Watanabe told Constantino, adding that when Constantino last appeared before Watanabe, the judge was leaning toward sentencing Constantino to five years in prison.
Constantino has been "terrible on probation," Watanabe said. "That's a big strike against you." But the judge said she is going out on a limb for Constantino again due in part to her "hard-working advocates."
Those advocates include state Deputy Public Defender John Calma and, making a rare appearance in a criminal case, attorney Daryl Dobashi.
Representing Constantino in different cases, the attorneys both argued that Constantino qualifies for probation as a first-time drug offender, and has overcome what Calma called several "stumbling blocks" in her attempts to get assessed and into drug treatment.
Among the problems seems to be a communication breakdown, wherein Watanabe's information showed that Constantino was not keeping in contact with state probation officers, when at KCCC she is only allowed to call her attorneys.
Also, Watanabe said the state drug-treatment-program supervisor wasn't sure whether Constantino was still interested in getting treatment.
"It's a problem we have to rectify," Watanabe said.
Also problematic to the defense attorneys and Watanabe is the fact that probation services provided Constantino a five-year-old list of drug-treatment counselors, most of whom don't even provide the service anymore, with some of the newer counselors not even on the list.
Watanabe suggested both attorneys write letters to 5th Circuit Chief Judge Randal Valenciano to call his attention to the problem of the outdated substance-abuse-counselor list, to begin work on getting that problem fixed.
Another problem was that available substance-abuse counselors wanted payment in advance before providing assessment services, and money is something the incarcerated Constantino does not have, Dobashi said.
Further, others couldn't assess Constantino without permission from probation services, Dobashi said.
Malia Tokioka, of Hope, Help & Healing Kaua'i, a faith-based, substance-abuse-treatment operation, performed the assessment, Dobashi told the court.
"She realizes she has a drug problem," Dobashi said.
"I thank you guys for supporting me, and I'm sorry," said Constantino, who earlier pleaded guilty to drug charges and the charge of driving without a license.
"I didn't take it seriously the first time," but do now, she said. "I want chance again."
Calma said Constantino made her best efforts to get into drug treatment.
Dobashi said Constantino has been trying very hard, utilizing pencil-written letters to various programs trying to get assessed and into residential drug treatment, and that's the reason she may have been out of contact with the state drug-treatment supervisor.
"I'm just impressed with Maxine's diligence" in trying to get herself assessed and into treatment, Calma said.
"All defendants have the right to be assessed," Calma said.
Lori Wada, first deputy prosecuting attorney, said Constantino is a repeat offender with a 10-year criminal record, including a theft charge that Watanabe said has Constantino still owing a "huge sum" of money in restitution.
"She's been through it all. That's why she's back before the court as a repeat offender" at age 22, Wada said. Her mother, father and boyfriend all had drug convictions, Wada said.
"She sold ice" after being arrested, and quit stealing to support her drug habit and turned to dealing instead, Wada said, arguing against Constantino's qualification as a first-time drug offender and arguing against probation and in favor of extended prison terms.
As of August of last year, Constantino was still dealing, Wada said. "She doesn't get it," and is likely to re-offend, Wada said, asking Watanabe to sentence Constantino to five years in prison, and require her to re-pay over $20,000 in restitution.
"She blew her chance," Wada said.
"She is sincere at this time," and she will get into residential drug treatment, Calma said. She knows that if she blows this chance she will probably be sentenced to consecutive terms.
Watanabe said she hopes Constantino "fully appreciates" the attorneys who fought for her and continue to fight for her.
"If you mess up," don't go to treatment, fail to complete treatment, then return to her court, any pleas will fall on "deaf ears," Watanabe said.
"We can't afford to have someone like you terrorizing the community," using and dealing drugs, stealing. "You're no angel. You made choices, and you made terrible choices," said Watanabe, adding that probation is her last chance to see if drug treatment is going to clean Constantino up, turn her into a new person.
If Constantino ends up before Watanabe again, Watanabe will sentence her to "lengthy prison terms," including five years for theft and over 10 years for the drug charges, Watanabe said.
The plea agreement resulted in the dismissal of the felony offense of dealing methamphetamine.