Spotlight: Peter Carlisle, 40th Anniversary Honoree

In 1996, Peter Carlisle was elected to be the Prosecuting Attorney of the City and County of Honolulu. Three years prior, MADD Hawaii opened its first office on Fort Street. Right away, MADD Hawaii became a great fan of Carlisle because he went the extra mile in arguing impaired driving cases, representing victims and their families, and showing extreme sensitivity to the feelings of victims’ families and loved ones.

Born in 1952 in New Jersey, Carlisle pursued an undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, he attended the UCLA School of Law and first came to Hawaii in 1978 where he met and married his wife, Judy.

He was recruited as a deputy prosecutor for the City and County of Honolulu.

He remained in that job for over a decade, attaining the responsibility of chief of the Career Criminal Unit. In 1988, Carlisle went into private practice for the Honolulu law firm of Shim, Tam, Kirimitsu, Kitamura and Chang where he worked for eight years, mostly handling personal injury cases. 

In 2002, MADD Hawaii secretly nominated Carlisle for a major award at a MADD National conference in Alaska and arranged for him to be a speaker at the conference so he would need to travel to Fairbanks.  He delivered an excellent speech and was surprised when he was awarded the Mothers Against Drunk Driving National Criminal Justice Award. 

While in office as prosecuting attorney Peter convinced both legislators and voters to amend the state constitution to establish a system termed “information charging” which allowed judges to determine whether a case should go to trial rather than make victims and other witnesses testify during preliminary or grand jury hearings.

 “There were three cases involving impaired driving and I remember spending every possible moment in the courtroom watching and listening to Peter Carlisle’s presentations,” said Carol McNamee at the 40th Anniversary event in February. ‘It was an amazing experience and so important to the families who had lost a loved one. They knew he cared.”

A trailblazer, Carlisle started asking for manslaughter charges in impaired driving death cases. In the well-known Clyde Arakawa case, 19-year-old college student, Dana Ambrose, was hit by Arakawa’s speeding vehicle at the intersection of Pali Highway and School streets as she drove home from an after-school job.  The defense said that Arakawa, an off-duty police officer, had a resilient liver which enabled him to metabolize alcohol faster than most.  Arakawa consumed at least 11 drinks over four hours and his blood alcohol level tested at over .08 BAC. Carlisle was prepared with the answers and Arakawa went to prison.

“Dana’s mother said she would be indebted to Peter for the rest of her life,” McNamee said. 

MADD Hawaii thanks Peter Carlisle for fighting for Dana Ambrose and all other victims whose families so appreciate your fight for their rights.