State v. Phillips

Decision Date30 September 2016
Docket NumberSCWC–12–0000020
Parties STATE of Hawai'i, Petitioner/Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Lincoln PHILLIPS, Respondent/Defendant–Appellant.
CourtHawaii Supreme Court

Stephen K. Tsushima, Honolulu, for petitioner.

Randall K. Hironaka, Honolulu, for respondent.



The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) vacated the conviction of Lincoln Phillips for the attempted murder of his wife Tara Phillips and remanded the case for a new trial. In reaching this result, the ICA adopted an interpretation of the plain view doctrine that is contrary to this court's prior decisions and the protections and limits of the rights guaranteed under Article I, Section 7 of the Hawai'i Constitution. A proper application of these principles requires the reversal of the ICA's judgment on appeal and affirmance of the trial court's amended judgment of conviction.

A. Initial investigation

In the early morning of September 3, 2008, police dispatch received a call from Lincoln Phillips summoning police to his home. Phillips told the operator that "when he came home he found injuries to his wife's head." Honolulu Fire Department (HFD) personnel, emergency medical technicians (EMT), and Officer Stanley Collins of the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) were the earliest first responders to arrive at Phillips' house.

HPD Officer Collins received the dispatch at about 3:54 a.m. The officer "had no idea" of the identity of the victim or suspect. When Officer Collins arrived at the residence, he saw Phillips "in his garage area." According to Officer Collins, Phillips seemed frantic and was "motioning [him] to come forward" into the "garage area." Officer Collins understood the motioning to be "inviting me" and as an indication that "this is the place you should come, this is the place you should be."1 Upon entering the garage, Officer Collins asked Phillips what happened. Phillips responded, "It's my wife, it's my wife," and informed Officer Collins that his wife, Tara Phillips (Tara), was upstairs in the bedroom. While Phillips remained in the garage area, Officer Collins went upstairs and saw Tara lying on a bed being attended by members of the HFD. After spending "maybe a few seconds" upstairs, Officer Collins returned to the garage, where Phillips had remained, and Officer Collins "made contact with Phillips and tried to get him calm."

HPD Officer Robert Frank arrived at approximately 4:03 a.m. and joined Officer Col lins and Phillips in the garage. Officer Frank noted that Phillips "was sweating profusely, pacing back and forth." Phillips told the officers that "he couldn't sleep. So he got in his car, drove to the beach [ ] then [to] the park at the end of Fort Weaver Road, [and] stopped at 7 Eleven." When he "arrived home, [he] went upstairs and ... found his wife bleeding from her head."

Officer Collins "tried to get [Phillips] calm" by opening the door of Tara's vehicle and having him sit in the passenger seat. Officer Collins asked him what happened, and Phillips explained that "when he went upstairs initially he sat on the futon" and "the lights were out." "When he heard his wife having difficulty breathing that's when he turned on the lights and discovered her injuries."

Phillips said that the garage door was closed when he drove off early that morning and open when he returned home. Phillips explained that the garage door was defective: "it would close with the remote, but it would not open with the remote." Phillips demonstrated the garage door remote to show the officers that it was defective. Phillips closed the garage door with the remote, and the officers "had to open it from the inside panel of the garage" with a wall switch.

HPD Sergeant (Sgt.) Lloyd Keliinui arrived at Phillips' residence at approximately 4:00 a.m. Sgt. Keliinui was told by other officers that Phillips had come home and had "found out that his wife had been assaulted." Based on the information that "somebody came in" to the home, Sgt. Keliinui was concerned that there was "somebody out there unidentified, possibly roaming the neighborhood, with some kind of weapon." Sgt. Keliinui "instructed some of the initial officers to canvas the area" and to "check for possible suspects or witnesses" and evidence.

HPD Officer John Tokunaga arrived at approximately 4:12 a.m. Sgt. Keliinui instructed him to "check the area" "in the immediate vicinity of the residence" "for possible weapons that may have been used." Sgt. Keliinui did not inform Officer Tokunaga of the general facts of the case. Officer Tokunaga did not know "what kind of possible weapons [he] was looking for." He was looking for any "possible evidence that may have been related to the victim's injuries." He was not aware of "anyone in particular [that was] a suspect." Officer Tokunaga did not find any weapon or other possible evidence that may have been related to Tara's injuries outside of the residence.

Sometime before 4:30 a.m., Officer Tokunaga observed a hammer "on a cooler" inside the garage, "on the left side of the garage as you enter." Officer Tokunaga "believe[d] there was a spot of blood on top of the hammer," which indicated that it was a "possible weapon." Officer Tokunaga also observed "water on the handle area of the hammer" but not on the coolers. At the time Officer Tokunaga observed the hammer, Officers Frank and Collins were also in the garage with Phillips. Officer Tokunaga informed Sgt. Keliinui and Officer Corrine Rivera about the hammer that he had found.

During the initial investigation, Phillips' garage served as an impromptu center for the police response. Officer Collins was "going back and forth" from the garage, trying to keep Phillips "calm"; "EMS [was] arriving, and the sector sergeant [was] arriving"; and Officer Ahn was with Phillips in the garage. HPD officers "were coming in and out" of the garage, and "there was a lot of commotion going on because the garage had kind of been the central place of the investigation."

At some point during the "initial check of the residence" by the police, Officer Frank blew his nose into a napkin and "discarded it in the garbage can" that was "in the garage."2 Officer Frank lifted the lid of the garbage container "about 45 degrees" to discard the napkin, and observed rolled up mesh clothing among discarded food boxes inside the garbage container. The clothes were "just sitting in the garbage container," "on the same level" of the food boxes. Officer Frank did not "disturb the contents of that trash can at all." Because the clothing "was rolled up," Officer Frank did not notice anything unusual about the clothes. Officer Frank informed Sgt. Keliinui about the clothing "when [he] got the chance to see him."

HPD Officer Dennis Ahn arrived at approximately 4:30 a.m. and entered the open garage where he observed Officer Collins, Sgt. Keliinui, and Phillips. Officer Collins instructed Officer Ahn to stay with Phillips, who "was the only witness at the time." Officer Ahn was assigned to watch Phillips and help him "to just remain calm, and just to stay put until a detective would come and get a statement from him." Later, Officer Ahn asked Phillips to move into the living room so that he would be more comfortable and could see Tara as she was being carried out, and because he was "obstructing the walkway between walking in the garage and into the home."

At approximately 5:15 a.m., Officer Ahn asked Phillips to accompany him "to the Kapolei station, because a detective would like to get his statement." Officer Ahn informed Phillips "that he was not under arrest." "Phillips was very cooperative. And he said yes." Officer Ahn and Phillips arrived at the Kapolei Police Station at approximately 5:30 a.m. where Phillips was interviewed later that morning. At the end of the interview, Phillips "just want[ed] to go see [his] wife," and he was permitted to leave the station.

At approximately 6:05 a.m., Evidence Specialist Jasmina Eliza from the HPD Scientific Investigation Section arrived at Phillips' home. She was directed to photograph and recover the hammer. Specialist Eliza recovered the hammer at approximately 9:35 a.m. At the same time, she also recovered a man's shirt as well as a man's pants from the trash can located in the garage.

At 12:25 p.m., HPD Detective Sheryl Sunia prepared an Affidavit in Support of a Search Warrant (Affidavit). In her Affidavit, Sunia requested a warrant allowing a search of, inter alia, Phillips' residence and car, along with receptacles, bags, and containers found within.3

Upon a finding that there was probable cause to believe that "evidence of Attempted Murder in the Second Degree ... and/or Burglary in the First Degree" was present, a district court judge issued a search warrant for Phillips' car and residence and "all closed compartments and/or containers" therein at approximately 7:45 p.m. that evening. Among other items, the warrant allowed HPD officers to search Phillips' residence for "[a] plastic garbage can, including its contents, located in the enclosed garage" as well as "all items of evidence, including, but not limited to ... articles of clothing ... [and] tools."

B. Circuit Court

On September 10, 2008, Phillips was indicted on the charge of attempted murder in the second degree in violation of Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) §§ 705–500,4 707–701.5,5 and 706–656.6 Phillips pleaded not guilty to the charge on September 15, 2008, in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (circuit court).

1. Motion to Suppress

On April 24, 2009, Phillips filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence and Statements (motion).7 Phillips sought to suppress from admission into evidence the hammer recovered from his garage and a gray "men's shirt with orange piping and gray men's shorts with blue lateral stripes,"...

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6 cases
  • Estate v. Mastroianni
    • United States
    • Hawaii Supreme Court
    • May 5, 2020
    ...the whole cause or the only factor bringing about the plaintiff's injuries" in order to be their legal cause. State v. Phillips, 138 Hawai‘i 321, 352, 382 P.3d 133, 164 (2016) (ellipses omitted) (quoting Knodle v. Waikiki Gateway Hotel, Inc., 69 Haw. 376, 390, 742 P.2d 377, 386 (1987) ). Ho......
  • State v. Rosa
    • United States
    • Hawaii Court of Appeals
    • August 31, 2020 suppress de novo ...’ " Id. (quoting State v. Locquiao, 100 Hawai‘i 195, 203, 58 P.3d 1242, 1250 (2002) ). State v. Phillips, 138 Hawai‘i 321, 357, 382 P.3d 133, 169 (2016). "[T]he right/wrong standard ... allows the appellate court to examine the facts and answer the question without be......
  • State v. Pulgados
    • United States
    • Hawaii Court of Appeals
    • October 30, 2020
    ...and internal quotation marks omitted)."A judge has broad discretion in matters related to sentencing." State v. Phillips, 138 Hawai‘i 321, 357, 382 P.3d 133, 169 (2016) (citation omitted). Accordingly, a trial court's sentencing or resentencing determination will not be disturbed absent a "......
  • State v. Cattaneo
    • United States
    • Hawaii Court of Appeals
    • February 24, 2021
    ...APPLICABLE STANDARDS OF REVIEW In general, "[a] judge has broad discretion in matters related to sentencing." State v. Phillips, 138 Hawai‘i 321, 357, 382 P.3d 133, 169 (2016) (citation omitted). Accordingly, "[t]he authority of a trial court to select and determine the severity of a penalt......
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