State v. Eleneki

Decision Date22 December 2004
Docket NumberNo. 25167.,25167.
Citation102 P.3d 1075,106 Haw. 177
PartiesSTATE of Hawai'i, Plaintiff-Appellee v. Jasmine ELENEKI, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtHawaii Supreme Court

Cindy A.L. Goodness, Deputy Public Defender, on the briefs, for defendant-appellant.

Richard K. Minatoya, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, County of Maui, on the briefs, for plaintiff-appellee.

MOON, C.J., LEVINSON, ACOBA, and DUFFY, JJ.; with NAKAYAMA, J., concurring separately and dissenting.

Opinion of the Court by ACOBA, J.

We hold that the police stop of Defendant-Appellant Jasmine Eleneki (Eleneki) was unlawful under Article I, Section 71 of the Hawai'i State Constitution, and therefore everything seized thereafter from her vehicle should have been suppressed. State v. Bonds, 59 Haw. 130, 138, 577 P.2d 781, 787 (1978) (stating where "[t]he stop of the vehicle constituted an unreasonable seizure[,] ... the evidence so obtained was inadmissible"). Because such evidence was illegally seized, we vacate the April 18, 2002 judgment of conviction of the circuit court of the second circuit2 (the court) and remand the case for disposition in accordance with this opinion.

I.

On May 9, 2001, Plaintiff-Appellee State of Hawai'i (the prosecution) filed a five-count complaint in the court charging Eleneki with drug related offenses. On August 15, 2001, Eleneki filed a motion to suppress evidence recovered from Eleneki's vehicle after the stop. On November 13, 2001, and December 13, 2001, the court conducted hearings on the motion to suppress. On February 7, 2002, the court denied the motion to suppress and issued its "Findings of Fact ("findings"), Conclusions of Law ("conclusions"), and Order Denying [Eleneki's] Motion to Suppress Statements and Evidence ("order")." The court entered the following pertinent and unchallenged findings:

1. All events and occurrences giving rise to the charges contained in the indictments herein occurred in the County of Maui, State of Hawaii, and venue is properly in the above-entitled [c]ourt;
2. This [c]ourt has jurisdiction over Defendant and this case and cause;
3. On April 30, 2001, at about midday, Sergeant Anthony Poplardo and other officers of the MPD vice narcotics division executed two search warrants on Kihei residences located in the Uwapo Road Apartments.
4. The tenant of one of those apartments, Scott Chong ["Chong"], was arrested for the offense of Promoting a Dangerous Drug in the Third Degree, methamphetamine, as was an occupant of the second apartment that was also the subject premises of a search warrant. That the occupants of both apartments were working in conjunction to distribute methamphetamine;
5. Sergeant Poplardo spoke with ... Chong and the other individual arrested at the Wailuku police station;
6. Sergeant Poplardo knew ... Chong for over one year. Chong provided information on numerous occasions to both Sergeant Poplardo and other vice narcotics officers, and was considered a reliable informant;
....
8. Chong and the other individual arrested at the Uwapo Apartments on April 30, 2001, both informed Sergeant Poplardo that [Eleneki] was a supplier of Crystal Methamphetamine and cocaine in the Kihei area;
....
10. That on the evening of April 30, 2001, after speaking with Sergeant Poplardo, ... Chong was released from police custody. Chong was picked up by a female in a white Chrysler PT Cruiser, and Sergeant Poplardo recognized the driver of the PT Cruiser to be the Defendant;
11. On the morning of May 1, 2001, Sergeants Anthony Poplardo and Chris Navarro were looking for ... Chong. The purpose of seeking ... Chong was to speak to him regarding the distribution of drugs and to serve him with an outstanding arrest warrant ...;
12. That the officers were in an unmarked police car when they saw the white Chrysler PT Cruiser, License Number MGH 494 in the parking lot at 1900 Main Street, Wailuku, near the Minute Stop store;
13. That Sergeant Poplardo could see that [Eleneki] was the driver of the car, and that there were two other occupants in the car; however, he was unsure if ... Chong was one of the passengers;
14. Sergeant Poplardo followed the vehicle east on Main Street, then on to Kaahumanu Avenue, then onto Wahine Pio Drive, then stopped the car using blue light and siren. The car was stopped near Keopulani Park at approximately 11:15 a.m. or 11:20 a.m.;
...
25. At approximately 11:30 a.m., Officer William Gannon arrived with his drug detection dog "BEN", and Sergeant Poplardo turned the investigation over to him;
26. "BEN" alerted to the vehicle, and Officer Gannon then seized the vehicle and had it towed to the Wailuku Police Station;
27. That Sergeant Poplardo and Officer Gannon obtained a search warrant, Number 2001-48, the subject premises being the white Chrysler PT Cruiser, Hawaii License number MGH 494;
28. That on May 1, 2001, at 6:50 p.m., the search warrant was executed, and [certain] items were recovered, and photographs of same were entered into evidence for purposes of th[e] hearing[.]

(Emphases added.)

Based on its findings, the court issued the following relevant conclusion:

4. The [c]ourt finds that with respect to the traffic stop, Sergeant Poplardo clearly possessed information that would cause a person of reasonable caution to believe that criminal activity was afoot and that the action taken was appropriate. Taking into account Sergeant Poplardo's knowledge that Scott Chong was a user of drugs who associated with Defendant, information provided, that Defendant was a known supplier of drugs, and also the existence of an outstanding arrest warrant for Scott Chong, along with other factors, a reasonable person would clearly suspect that the criminal activity was afoot, and the appropriate action was to conduct an investigative stop of the vehicle.

(Emphasis added.)

On February 19, 2002, Eleneki entered a conditional plea of no contest to Counts I through V and reserved her right to seek appellate review of the motion to suppress. Based on the court's findings, the evidence recovered was material proof of the offenses for which she was convicted. On April 18, 2002, judgment was entered and Defendant was convicted as charged of (1) promoting a dangerous drug in the first degree, Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 712-1241(1)(a)(i) (Supp.2002) (Count I); (2) prohibited acts related to drug paraphernalia, HRS § 329-43.5(a) (1993) (Counts II and IV); (3) promoting a dangerous drug in the second degree, HRS § 712-1242(1)(b)(i) (1993) (Count III); and (4) promoting a detrimental drug in the third degree, HRS § 712-1249(1) (1993). She was sentenced to concurrent terms of incarceration. On June 17, 2002, Eleneki filed a notice of appeal challenging the April 18, 2002 judgment.

On appeal, Defendant challenges, inter alia, the court's conclusion 4 that "with respect to the traffic stop, Sergeant Poplardo clearly possessed information that would cause a person of reasonable caution to believe that criminal activity was afoot[.]" "We review the circuit court's ruling on a motion to suppress de novo to determine whether the ruling was right or wrong." State v. Kauhi, 86 Hawai'i 195, 197, 948 P.2d 1036, 1038 (1997) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

II.

It is axiomatic that "stopping an automobile and detaining its occupants constitutes a `seizure' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 7 of the Hawai'i Constitution, even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief." State v. Powell, 61 Haw. 316, 320, 603 P.2d 143, 147 (citations omitted). A warrantless seizure is presumed invalid "unless and until the prosecution proves that the ... seizure falls within a well-recognized and narrowly defined exception to the warrant requirement." State v. Prendergast, 103 Hawai'i 451, 454, 83 P.3d 714, 717. See also State v. Barnes, 58 Haw. 333, 335-37, 568 P.2d 1207, 1209-11 (1977) (holding that warrantless arrest of a defendant, who had been in contact minutes before with an alleged drug supplier, was a valid stop pursuant to the exception recognized in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968)).

"In determining the reasonableness of wholly discretionary automobile stops, this court has repeatedly applied the standard set forth in Terry." Powell, 61 Haw. at 321, 603 P.2d at 147-48. The "narrowly defined exception to the warrant requirement" recognized by Prendergast is that "a police officer may stop an automobile and detain its occupants if that officer has a `reasonable suspicion' that the person stopped was engaged in criminal conduct." Prendergast, 103 Hawai'i at 454, 83 P.3d at 717 (emphasis added) (citing State v. Bolosan, 78 Hawai'i 86, 94, 890 P.2d 673, 681 (1995)).

In that connection, "the police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Powell, 61 Haw. at 321, 603 P.2d at 148 (quoting Barnes, 58 Haw. at 338, 568 P.2d at 1211). A seizure or stop based on "reasonable suspicion," then, is tied to "some objective manifestation that the person stopped is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal activity[,]" United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417, 101 S.Ct. 690, 66 L.Ed.2d 621 (1981), or "is wanted for past criminal conduct [,]" id. at 417 n. 2, 101 S.Ct. 690.

III.

In this case, as mentioned, the court stated in conclusion 4 that, "with respect to the traffic stop, Sergeant Poplardo clearly possessed information that would cause a person of reasonable caution to believe that criminal activity was afoot." Contrary to the court's conclusion, there were no specific facts articulated by the police that would warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that criminal activity was afoot. None of the findings indicate that the police observed any criminal activity...

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