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United States v. Uu

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

October 16, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff,
v.
KOA AKIRA UU, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          Michael Seabright Chief United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Defendant Koa Akira Uu (“Uu”) seeks an order suppressing evidence relating to the seizure and subsequent search of his backpack by the Maui Police Department (“MPD”). The court finds that the MPD unreasonably delayed obtaining a search warrant for 20 days after seizure of the backpack, and thus violated Uu's Fourth Amendment rights. As a result, the Motion is GRANTED.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On April 26, 2017, Uu was indicted by a federal grand jury on a single count of being a felon in possession of a firearm on or about February 14, 2017, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). ECF No. 5. On June 30, 2017, Uu filed a Motion to Suppress, claiming that the initial seizure of his backpack (from which the firearm was ultimately seized) on February 14, 2017 was illegal, and that the delay between the time the backpack was seized and the time that MPD obtained a search warrant was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. ECF No. 26. The court held an evidentiary hearing on September 15, 2017. The testimony and exhibits admitted during the hearing establish the following:

         In the early morning hours of February 14, 2017, MPD Officers Travis Abarra, Lance Yorita, and Devin Schoeppner responded to a motor vehicle accident on Hana Highway. Shortly before 3:00 a.m., while officers managed traffic at the accident site, Uu approached the officers on a motorcycle. Although Officer Schoeppner motioned for Uu to continue past the accident scene, Uu pulled the motorcycle to the side of the road, where it stalled. The officers then observed that the motorcycle had no license plate. Officer Yorita approached Uu and asked if Uu had a driver's license. Uu stated that he did, but failed to produce one. During this time, Uu was unsuccessfully attempting to re-start the motorcycle.

         Uu was then told to dismount the motorcycle, which he did. Upon questioning, Uu provided the police his name and birthdate. Officer Yorita then contacted MPD dispatch, and learned that Uu did not have the required driver's license to operate a motorcycle, [1] and that Uu had an outstanding bench warrant.[2]

         After Uu was informed that he was being arrested based on the bench warrant, he hesitated and then attempted to flee. But he didn't get far-after only a few steps he was taken to the ground and handcuffed while he was wearing a backpack. Uu was then escorted to the patrol car, where his handcuffs were removed one at a time while Officer Abarra grabbed the top of the backpack and then placed the backpack on the ground. After Uu was re-cuffed, Officer Abarra then took hold of the top of the backpack with his left hand and placed it on the trunk of the patrol vehicle. Uu was then placed inside the patrol vehicle. Although the record is not clear as to the exact timing, around this point in the encounter Uu told the officers that “you can't search my backpack.”

         Officer Abarra then grabbed the top handle of the backpack with his right hand, and placed his left hand at the bottom of the backpack for support. With his left hand, Officer Abarra immediately recognized what “felt like a large, hard handle resembling like a pistol grip.”[3] Officer Abarra testified that, at this point, he did not manipulate the backpack for the purpose of feeling its contents. Then, in an effort to determine if the firearm was holstered, Officer Abarra did manipulate the backpack to feel the firearm. After determining that the firearm was not in a holster, he called his supervisor and was told to seize the backpack as evidence pending application for a search warrant.

         That same early morning, Officer Yorita transported the backpack to MPD's Wailuku station, and then submitted the backpack as evidence pending an application for a search warrant.

         And also on that same day (February 14, 2017), MPD Detective Christopher Schmitt was assigned Uu's case. At that time he was on vacation, returning to MPD on February 16, 2017. But, for reasons never fully explained, Detective Schmitt did not learn that Uu's backpack had been seized pending a search warrant application until 8 days later, on February 24, 2017. On that date, he contacted the Maui County Prosecutor's Office to consult with a prosecutor on the search warrant application. But, again without any reason given, Detective Schmitt waited until March 6, 2017 to present his search warrant affidavit to a judicial officer. In all, 20 days passed between the time of the seizure of the backpack and the time when a judicial officer approved its search. The warrant was then executed two days later, on March 8, 2017.[4] The firearm giving rise to Uu's indictment was recovered from the backpack.

         III. DISCUSSION

         In his Motion to Suppress, Uu claims that: 1) Officer Abarra manipulated Uu's backpack such that he was able to discern the presence of the firearm, and this manipulation falls outside of the “plain touch” doctrine; and 2) the delay in obtaining a search warrant and then executing that warrant was unreasonable and in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Because the court agrees that the delay in obtaining the search warrant violated Uu's Fourth Amendment rights, the Motion to Suppress is GRANTED.[5]

         A. ...


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