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State v. Medeiros

Supreme Court of Hawaii

December 20, 2019

STATE OF HAWAI'I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee,
KAOHULANI MEDEIROS, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.


          Hayden Aluli for petitioner

          Peter A. Hanano for respondent



          RECKTENWALD, C.J.

         In 1976, the legislature enacted Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 853 to allow for the deferred acceptance of guilty (DAG) pleas. The legislature thereby sought "to establish a means whereby a court in its discretion may defer acceptance of a guilty plea for a certain period on certain conditions with respect to certain defendants[, ] . . . result[ing] in the discharge of the defendant and expungement of the matter from [the defendant's] record." 1976 Haw. Sess. Laws Act 154, § 1 at 279. The legislature later amended HRS Chapter 853 to allow for deferred acceptance of no contest (DANC) pleas.[1]1983 Haw. Sess. Laws Act 290, § 1 at 617.

         As the legislature explained, HRS Chapter 853 serves important policy goals and the availability of its benefits is specifically tailored in furtherance of those goals:

[I]n certain criminal cases, particularly those involving first time, accidental, or situational offenders, it is in the best interest of the State and the defendant that the defendant be given the opportunity to keep [the defendant's] record free of a criminal conviction if [the defendant] can comply with certain terms and conditions during a period designated by court order. Especially where youth is involved, a record free of a felony conviction, which would foreclose certain educational, professional, and job opportunities may, in a proper case, be more conducive to offender rehabilitation and crime prevention than the deterrent effects of a conviction and sentence.

1976 Haw. Sess. Laws Act 154, § 1 at 279.

         HRS § 853-4 (2014 & Supp. 2018) sets forth the circumstances under which a defendant is ineligible to benefit from HRS Chapter 853. One such circumstance is where the offense charged is nonprobationable. HRS § 853-4(5). In State v. Hamili, this court determined that Prohibited Fishing with Gill Nets was a nonprobationable offense because the use of the word "shall" in the applicable sentencing provision indicated three mandatory sentencing alternatives, none of which allowed for a term of probation. 87 Hawai'i 102, 107, 952 P.2d 390, 395 (1998) .

         This case requires us to revisit Hamili and to consider the bounds of a trial court's discretion in granting or denying a motion for a DANC plea.[2] As discussed herein, we believe that the legislature intended for the benefits of HRS Chapter 853 to be broadly available to defendants, except where clearly articulated, deliberate exceptions apply. Applying those principles here, we conclude that the underlying offenses at issue in this case are probationable and Hamili is hereby overruled.

         In addition, although the grant or denial of a motion for a DANC plea is a matter within the discretion of the trial court, in the instant case, the court erred in denying Kaohulani Medeiros's motion for a DANC plea. We therefore vacate the Intermediate Court of Appeals' (ICA) Judgment on Appeal and the Circuit Court of the Second Circuit's (circuit court) Judgment, Conviction, and Probation Sentence, and remand the case to the circuit court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND[3]

         At around 9:30 p.m. on February 24, 2017, Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Officers John Yamamoto and Mark Chamberlain approached Medeiros on the side of Pi'ilani Highway on Maui, on suspicion that Medeiros may have been night hunting using artificial light, in violation of the Hawai'i Administrative Rules (HAR). Medeiros was dressed in a camouflage t-shirt and admitted to Officer Yamamoto that "he was spotlighting."[4] Officer Yamamoto seized a headlamp, an unloaded rifle, a magazine containing ammunition, and a case of bullets from Medeiros's truck.

         The State charged Medeiros by Felony Information and Non-Felony Complaint with the following four counts:

Count I: Place to Keep Unloaded Firearms Other Than Pistol and Revolvers, a class C felony, in violation of HRS § 134-24(a) (2011);
Count II: Place to Keep Ammunition, a misdemeanor, in violation of HRS § 134-27 (a) (2011);
Count III: Hunting Hours, a petty misdemeanor, in violation of HAR § 13-123-6; and
Count IV: Artificial Light Prohibited, a petty misdemeanor, in violation of HAR § 13-123-7.[5]

         A. Circuit Court Proceedings

         Medeiros entered an initial plea of not guilty as to all four counts. He subsequently filed a motion to suppress "all evidence obtained by law enforcement officers of the state [DLNR] arising out of an investigative detention of [Medeiros] on Pi'ilani Highway on Feb[ruary] 24, 2017 [, ]" including all statements made by Medeiros and all physical evidence seized from his truck. The circuit court[6] held a hearing on the matter, at which Officers Yamamoto and Chamberlain testified.[7]

         1. Suppression Hearing

         Officer Yamamoto testified that at around 9:00 pm on February 24, 2017, he and Officer Chamberlain were patrolling an area between Kaup6 and 'Ulupalakua for hunting and fishing violations. Officer Yamamoto testified that he and Officer Chamberlain stopped at an elevated vantage point with a clear, unobstructed view of the area. Officer Yamamoto observed a gray Toyota pickup truck pass by and "[u]pon the Toyota coming up on the other horizon across [] the valley, . . . [he] started seeing panning of a light."

         Officer Yamamoto testified that the light was coming from the driver's side of the vehicle, which was slowly moving down Pi'ilani Highway, "heading towards Kaupo/Hana." Officer Yamamoto explained that spotlighting is a "common act of a hunter [engaged in] night hunting. They tend to look for animals on the side of the road." He further explained that the truck's slow maneuvering was "an act that's consistent [with what] a night hunter would do." Because spotlighting is "pretty common with night hunting in that area," Officer Yamamoto suspected that there "could be possibly night hunting going on[.]"

         Officer Yamamoto testified that after observing the truck for about two minutes, he and Officer Chamberlain got into separate vehicles and headed toward it. Officer Yamamoto admitted that he lost sight of the truck for about fifteen minutes, until he noticed a gray Toyota pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction. The truck turned left in front of Officer Yamamoto, onto the shoulder. Although Officer Yamamoto could not say for sure that the truck on the shoulder was the same vehicle that he observed from the vantage point, it had the same general appearance, and Officer Yamamoto had only observed one other vehicle - a smaller sedan - on the road that night. As a result, Officer Yamamoto also pulled onto the shoulder.

         Officer Yamamoto stated that when he exited his vehicle, the driver of the truck was walking towards him, wearing a camouflage t-shirt. He identified the driver as Kaohulani Medeiros. Officer Yamamoto testified that he told Medeiros, "the reason why we're here ... I won't lie to you. What we observed earlier was a light panning from this vehicle." Medeiros responded, "I'm not going to lie to you either. I was spotlighting."

         Officer Yamamoto further testified that when he asked Medeiros if he had any weapons, Medeiros recovered a rifle and a case of bullets from the cab of his truck and stated that the magazine for the weapon "was in the cup holder between the driver's seat and the passenger seat." Officer Yamamoto testified that the magazine contained ammunition, but there were no bullets in the rifle's chamber. Officer Yamamoto further testified that he recovered a headlamp "that was given to him as what was being shined."

         According to Officer Yamamoto, Medeiros stated that he borrowed the rifle from his brother and was planning to go hunting the next morning. Medeiros also stated that he was driving home from work when he pulled over to urinate, and further explained that he worked in Wailuku and lived in Hana. However, Officer Yamamoto testified that Medeiros's truck was actually headed toward Wailuku, rather than Hana, just before it pulled onto the shoulder. Officer Yamamoto issued Medeiros two criminal citations for "night illumination for hunting . . . and for night hunting."

         The circuit court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order denying Medeiros's motion to suppress. The circuit court's findings of fact essentially restated the testimony of Officers Yamamoto and Chamberlain.

         2. Plea Agreement and Motion for a DANC Plea

         Medeiros entered into a plea agreement whereby the State would dismiss Counts I and II if Medeiros pleaded guilty or no contest to Counts III and IV. The plea agreement further provided that Medeiros would be sentenced to a $100 fine for each count. Medeiros filed a motion for a DANC plea, expressing his intent to plead no contest to both petty misdemeanor charges, and requesting that the circuit court defer acceptance of his no contest pleas, pursuant to HRS Chapter 853.[8] Medeiros attached letters written by his father and brother as exhibits to his motion for a DANC plea. The letters explained that the rifle seized from Medeiros's truck was registered to Medeiros's father, and that both Medeiros and his brother had permission to use and transport it.

         At a hearing on Medeiros's change of plea and sentencing, the circuit court found that Medeiros "voluntarily enter[ed] pleas of no contest with an understanding of the nature of the charges against him and the consequences of his plea." Defense counsel then requested that the circuit court grant Medeiros's motion for a DANC plea, in consideration of the factors set forth by HRS § 853-1 (a), because: 1) Medeiros voluntarily pled no contest to both petty misdemeanor charges; 2) Medeiros's history showed that he would not likely engage in a future criminal course of conduct; and 3) the administration of justice did not require that Medeiros suffer any penalty, other than the fines set forth by the plea agreement and the conditions imposed for the duration of a DANC plea probationary period. Accordingly, defense counsel requested that the circuit court sentence Medeiros to a $100 fine for each count, pursuant to the plea agreement, and "continue the deferral pending the final outcome or payment of the $200.00 fine. In other words, if [Medeiros] pays $200.00 in one month, then the [DANC plea] probationary period ends."

         Medeiros then addressed the court and stated, "[s]orry for the mess that I got myself into. And you're not going to see me in here again. I can guarantee that. This was just one big misunderstanding. And I['m] sorry."

         The prosecutor deferred to the circuit court with regard to Medeiros's motion for a DANC plea, stating:

Medeiros was honest with the DLNR officers that night. Um, he was honest. Maybe he didn't quite know the law.
[H]e's young. He's 23 years old. He's never been in trouble before. This is - he's never been arrested before. I think that this is a huge learning experience for him. ... I don't think that we'll see him in this courtroom again.
He definitely has support from his family. I think his parents have been here with him every time in court.
Mr. Medeiros, Sr. wrote a letter explaining the situation. . . . [P]erhaps this was a misunderstanding in that the Medeiros family doesn't quite know the law and understand the law. I think by this point they do.
And ... so I'm comfortable that this was a learning experience for Mr. Medeiros. I don't think that he will be back in court again.
And so with regards to the request for a deferral, I'll defer to the Court on that. . . . [T]he State is requesting, as pursuant to a plea agreement, the minimum fine, which is $100.00 on each of the petty misdemeanor counts.

         The circuit court found that Medeiros was "likely again to engage in such a criminal course of conduct," and accordingly, denied Medeiros's motion for a DANC plea. The circuit court explained its ruling as follows:

[A]ll I have before me is basically the arguments of counsel and the evidence that the Court heard at the motion to suppress.[9]
As far as the request for deferral under [HRS ยง] 853-l[, ] the Court has to consider whether a defendant voluntarily pleads no contest, which he has today, prior to the trial, whether it appears to the Court the defendant is not likely to again engage in the criminal course of conduct, and [whether] the ends of justice and the welfare of ...

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