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State v. Rodrigues

Supreme Court of Hawaii

December 13, 2019

STATE OF HAWAI'I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RODNEY ROBERT RODRIGUES, JR., Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.

          CERTIORARI TO THE INTERMEDIATE COURT OF APPEALS (CAAP-17-0000656; 3CPC171000034)

          Taryn R. Tomasa for petitioner

          Kauanoe A. Jackson McKenna for respondent

          RECKTENWALD, C.J., NAKAYAMA, McKENNA, POLLACK, AND WILSON, JJ.

          OPINION

          POLLACK, J.

         Our caselaw has established that a search warrant for a multiple-occupancy building must describe with particularity each unit to be searched so as to preclude the indiscriminate search of one or more subunits. The defendant in this case moved to suppress evidence gathered from a search of his residence asserting that the search warrant did not state with specificity the subunit he resided in.

         The circuit court determined that the searched building was a multiple-occupancy building and that the affiant officer knew or should have known that the defendant's subunit was a separate unit. The search warrant did not describe the defendant's subunit with particularity, the court concluded, and thus the search violated the defendant's constitutional rights. The court granted the defendant's motion to suppress in an order that included detailed findings of facts and conclusions of law.

         The State appealed the order. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) disagreed with the circuit court's finding that the building was a multiple-occupancy building and held that the court erred in granting the defendant's motion to suppress.

         Based upon our precedent as to findings of facts unchallenged on appeal and our law involving multiple-occupancy buildings, we conclude that the ICA erred and accordingly vacate the ICA's Judgment on Appeal and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Rodney R. Rodrigues, Jr., was arrested as a result of a May 18, 2017 search of his residence on the island of Hawai'i that uncovered various drugs and drug paraphernalia. Rodrigues was subsequently charged by complaint in the Circuit Court of the Third Circuit (circuit court) with two counts of Promoting a Dangerous Drug in the First Degree in violation of Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 712-1241(1) (a), [1] three counts of Promoting a Dangerous Drug in the Third Degree in violation of HRS § 712-1243 (1), [2] two counts of Promoting a Harmful Drug in the Fourth Degree in violation of HRS § 712-1246.5 (1), [3] one count of Promoting a Detrimental Drug in the Second Degree in violation of HRS § 712-1248 (1), [4] and one count of Prohibited Acts Relating to Drug Paraphernalia in violation of HRS § 329-43.5(a).[5]

         A. The Investigation and Warrant

         On May 11, 2017, Officer Marco Segobia of the Hawai'i Police Department submitted an Affidavit for Search Warrant (Affidavit) to the District Court of the Third Circuit (district court). The Affidavit included the following statements. Officer Segobia received information from a confidential informant (CI) who claimed to have observed Rodrigues sell methamphetamine multiple times in exchange for U.S. currency. At the direction of Officer Segobia, the CI conducted a controlled purchase of methamphetamine from Rodrigues' residence located at the North West corner of the intersection of Konalani Street and Puuhalo Street. The residence was a two story light colored wood siding structure with a white colored rooftop. Officer Segobia maintained constant surveillance as the CI walked to, entered, and exited the residence. The CI turned over a zip packet, containing an unspecified amount of clear crystal substance that obtained a presumptive positive result for methamphetamine after Officer Segobia tested it.

         The Affidavit requested to search the following location:

A residence located within the County and State of Hawai'i and within the District of Kona. Your affiant describes the residence as a three bedroom, 2 bathroom residence that [is] light colored, [and] has a white colored rooftop. The residence is located at [] Puuhalo Street in Kailua-Kona, Hawai'i. Your affiant checked the Hawai'i County Property Tax website and located the residence, which is owned by Yolanda M. RODRIGUES of address [] Puuhalo Street, Kailua-Kona, Hawai'i 96740. ... To include but not limited to all rooms, and other parts therein, the patio or lanai of such unit, and any attached garages and carport, attached storage rooms, garbage cans and containers located within[.]

         The district court issued a search warrant authorizing the search of the residence and property as described in the Affidavit. The warrant authorized the search for methamphetamine, drug related paraphernalia, articles tending to show the sale, proceeds of sale, or transport of methamphetamine, articles tending to establish who controlled the premise, and U.S. currency with or near a controlled substance.[6]

         B. Circuit Court Proceedings

         Rodrigues filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence and for Return of Property (Motion) in which he requested the suppression of "all evidence obtained as a result of the search of the ohana studio dwelling unit, in violation of [his] constitutional rights under Article I" of the Hawai'i Constitution.

         In his Motion, Rodrigues argued that the warrant defined the main residence with particularity, but failed to mention the separate and distinct 'ohana unit that the police actually searched.[7] Thus, there was no probable cause to search his 'ohana dwelling unit, Rodrigues contended, because a search warrant for a "multiple-occupancy building" must describe with particularity the specific subunit to be searched to be valid. Alternatively, Rodrigues maintained that if the warrant did authorize a search of his subunit, it was overbroad. Rodrigues also sought the return of his seized vehicles and cash under Hawai'i Rules of Penal Procedure (HRPP) Rule 41(e).[8]

         In opposition, the State argued that the warrant satisfied the particularity requirement and that the search did not exceed the scope of the warrant. The State acknowledged the general rule that a warrant for a multiple-occupancy building will usually be held invalid if it fails to describe the particular subunit. However, the State maintained that there is an exception when (1) the building appears to be a single-occupancy building and (2) the affiant, investigating officers, and executing officers neither knew nor had reason to know that it was a multiple-occupancy building until the execution of the warrant was ongoing. Based on the information available to Officer Segobia at the time that the warrant was issued, the scope of the search warrant did not preclude him from searching Rodrigues' residence, the State argued, because it appeared that all occupants had access to the entirety of the building, making it a single-occupancy residence.

         Next, the State argued that the execution of the search warrant was valid and did not exceed the scope of the warrant. The State asserted it was reasonable to search the entire dwelling described in the warrant because the search was conducted prior to discovery of the fact that Rodrigues' unit was a separate unit. Thus, according to the State, the search was valid as there was not objectively verifiable evidence from which the police officers should have unequivocally recognized that Rodrigues' unit required a separate warrant.

         At the hearing on the Motion, Rodrigues called two witnesses.[9] Rodrigues first called Officer Segobia who testified that his Affidavit was based on information that he obtained from the CI and from observing the controlled purchase. The main entrance of the residence was through the carport at the top portion of the residence, Officer Segobia testified, but he saw the CI walk downstairs and go to the downstairs unit, not the main entrance he described in the search warrant. The officer explained that Rodrigues was living in a downstairs unit of the residence located on the south portion of the lot.

         The "upstairs unit is completely separate from the downstairs unit" such that a person cannot access the downstairs unit from the upstairs portion of the residence, the officer explained. Although Officer Segobia stated that the CI "wasn't 100 percent if there would be a stairwell within [Rodrigues' ] unit or not" after conducting the controlled purchase, Officer Segobia acknowledged that, when he executed the warrant, there was no stairway connecting the downstairs unit to the upstairs portion of the residence. Officer Segobia further acknowledged that the unit he described in his Affidavit was "not the unit [he] searched."

         Officer Segobia stated that he described the property as one residence in his Affidavit because the Hawai'i real property tax map described the residence as being a three bedroom owned by Yolanda Rodrigues (Ms. Rodrigues), who is Rodrigues' mother. Based on this information, the officer said, he concluded that the downstairs unit was not an 'ohana unit but rather a bedroom that is located downstairs of the residence that "almost looks like [] an extension" of the residence.

         Officer Segobia also testified that his "personal friend" and Rodrigues' brother-in-law, Nick Ah Nee, was the resident of the downstairs unit prior to Rodrigues, and that he spoke with Ah Nee about the unit before the warrant was executed. Ah Nee said that he lived in the downstairs unit with his wife prior to Rodrigues, Officer Segobia explained. The officer testified that Ah Nee also said that Rodrigues lived upstairs in an office unit until Ah Nee moved out, at which point Rodrigues moved into the downstairs unit and the upstairs portion became Ms. Rodrigues' "portion of the residence." Officer Segobia stated that he had previously visited Ah Nee at the residence while Ah Nee was living there.

         As to his Affidavit, Officer Segobia testified that he described the entire residence and the front of the residence because "the information [from the CI] was very vague" as to whether the upstairs was accessible from Rodrigues' unit. He also described the residence as a whole, he explained, because it is owned by the same person. Officer Segobia elaborated that the CI could not give him information as to the inside of the downstairs unit layout. The officer added that he "didn't want to get too specific in [his] affidavit since the CI could not confirm the information." While acknowledging that the description of the area that he wanted to search was nowhere in his Affidavit, the officer nonetheless testified that the search warrant was intended to cover the upstairs portion of the house and the downstairs portion of the house. Officer Segobia stated that he described the residence in his Affidavit as "wood siding with a white color roof," but when questioned, he acknowledged that the downstairs unit was "painted sort of a greenish color" and did not have wood siding on it.

         As to the execution of the warrant, Officer Segobia testified that he approached the downstairs door located on the south side of the residence because that door is where he saw the CI do a transaction with Rodrigues. But the officer stated he believed, based on the information he obtained from Ah Nee that Rodrigues also lived in the residence while Ah Nee lived there, that "everybody would have access to everything" inside the residence. When he discovered the upstairs portion of the residence was not accessible from the downstairs unit, Officer Segobia testified, he called the search off in the top portion of the residence. Officer Segobia further acknowledged that the unit he described in his Affidavit was not the unit he searched.

         After Officer Segobia's testimony concluded, Rodrigues called Ms. Rodrigues to testify. Ms. Rodrigues stated that she owned a home located at "[] Puuhalo Street," which had three bedrooms upstairs and "a separate unit" downstairs. Rodrigues began living in the downstairs unit, and paying rent, about two years prior to May 2017, Ms. Rodrigues testified. ...


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