State v. Spillner

Decision Date24 December 2007
Docket NumberNo. 27722.,27722.
Citation173 P.3d 498
PartiesSTATE of Hawai`i, Plaintiff-Appellee-Respondent, v. Michael SPILLNER, Defendant-Appellant-Petitioner.
CourtHawaii Supreme Court

Brian R. Vincent, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, for the plaintiff-appellee-respondent State of Hawai`i.

Okechukwu Amadi, Deputy Public Defender (DPD), (Deborah L. Kim, DPD, on the application; Lila C.A. King, DPD, on the briefs), for the defendant-appellant-petitioner Michael Spillner.

MOON, C.J., LEVINSON, NAKAYAMA, and DUFFY, JJ., and ACOBA, J., Dissenting Separately.

Opinion of the Court by LEVINSON, J.

On July 20, 2007, the defendant-appellant-petitioner Michael Spillner filed an application for a writ of certiorari urging this court to review the summary disposition order (SDO) of the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) in State v. Spillner, No. 27722, 113 Hawai`i 507, 155 P.3d 690, 2007 WL 1114121 (Haw.App. Apr. 13, 2007) [hereinafter, "the ICA's SDO"], which affirmed the `Ewa district court's January 4, 2006 judgments, the Honorable Valerie W.H. Chang presiding, convicting him of and sentencing him for one count each of driving while unlicensed, in violation of Hawai`i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 286-102 (1993 & Supp.2002) (offense one), and driving without motor vehicle insurance, in violation of HRS § 431:10C-104 (Supp. 1997) (offense two). In his application, Spillner asserts that the district court erred: (1) in denying his motion to suppress the fruits of the March 1, 2005 traffic stop, during which Honolulu Police Department Officer Arthur Takamiya cited Spillner for offenses one and two; and (2) in convicting him on the basis of illegally obtained evidence. On August 21, 2007, this court granted Spillner's application and, on October 31, 2007, we heard oral argument.

For the reasons discussed herein, we conclude that Spillner's points of error are ultimately meritless and, therefore, affirm the ICA's April 24, 2007 judgment on appeal.


On February 15, 2005, Officer Takamiya stopped Spillner for sporting illegal window tinting on his vehicle and, during the stop, determined that Spillner had neither a valid driver's license nor insurance for his vehicle. Officer Takamiya stopped Spillner's vehicle again, a week later, upon observing that the illegal tinting had not been removed. At the time of the second stop, Spillner's girlfriend was driving the vehicle, which, Officer Takamiya determined, was still uninsured. Then, on March 1, 2005, Officer Takamiya once again stopped Spillner, driving the same vehicle, and cited him for offenses one and two.

A. Spillner's Pretrial Motion To Suppress And The Trial

On August 15, 2005, Spillner filed a motion to suppress "evidence obtained from warrantless . . . seizures of [Spillner] and/or [his] property," which the district court consolidated with its bench trial. Spillner asserted that:

1. . . .

a. . . . [T]he justification for the search and seizure conducted by ... [O]fficer [Takamiya] was based on prior contact with [Spillner].

b. . . . [O]fficer [Takamiya] could not have known if [Spillner] had obtained a driver's license or ... insurance[ ] subsequent to the prior contact....


e. The interrogation effectuated upon [Spillner] constitute[d] a seizure.

2. The stop and seizure of [Spillner]'s person and property was not supported by ... a reasonable suspicion based on specific articulable facts . . . that any criminal activity was afoot.

. . . .

4. The charges against [Spillner] constitute fruits of the unlawful stop and seizure.

. . . .

. . . "[B]ut for" the unlawful invasion, the evidence ... would not have been obtained.

(Citing U.S. Const. amends. IV (prohibiting "unreasonable searches and seizures"), XIV (concerning due process); Haw. Const. art. I, § 7 (prohibiting "unreasonable searches, seizures and invasions of privacy"); State v. Bolosan, 78 Hawai`i 86, 890 P.2d 673 (1995).)

On November 30, 2005, the district court conducted both the trial and the hearing on Spillner's motion to suppress. The only witness was Officer Takamiya, who testified for the plaintiff-appellee-respondent State of Hawai`i [hereinafter, "the prosecution"]. The prosecution elicited the following testimony on direct examination:

Q ... [W]ere you assigned on foot or in a vehicle on March 1st[, 2005]?

A In a vehicle.

Q And what brought your attention to [Spillner] . . .

. . . .

. . . [o]n that very day?

. . . .

A I saw . . . [his] vehicle making a right turn. . . .

. . . .

Q And what brought your attention to [him?] I know you saw the vehicle, but what made it stand out?

A ... [O]ne to two weeks prior to this day, I cited ... Spillner in the exact same vehicle for having illegal front tints and no driver's license and no insurance.

Q ... [Y]ou were able to recognize the defendant?

A Yes.

Q He was fresh on your mind?

A Yes.

Q And did you recognize the car[ ] or . . . the person?

A . . . [B]oth.

. . . .

Actually, I recognized the car first and then I could see through the front windshield because the tints were removed, ... and I could see ... Spillner driving.

Q And you recognized his face?

A Yes.

Q ... Upon making this observation, what were you thinking?

A That ... Spillner was driving without a license and no insurance.

Q And what made you ... think that?

A Because I cited him one to two weeks prior[ ]

. . . .

. . . [f]or driving without [a] license and . . . without insurance and also the illegal . . . tinted windshield.

Q So, upon making these observations, what was your next move?

. . . .

A I located him between a quarter mile to half a mile up the street. . . .

. . . .

Q . . . And he. . . .

A . . . pulled over.

Q . . . [A]nd once you stopped, who did you see behind the wheel?

A . . . Spillner.

. . . .

Q . . . Was he alone in the vehicle?

A Yes.

Q And did you ask him for his ... license?

A I did knowing that he didn't have one, but I still asked him for one.

Q And what was his response?

A He said he doesn't have one.

. . . . [(Objection to speculation overruled.)]

Q . . . [D]id [Spillner] make any statements at this point?

A Not that I recall.


Q ... [D]id you ask for his proof of insurance?

A Yes. . . .

Q Was he able to provide that ... ?

A No. . . .

Q What was his response?

A I'm not exactly sure word for word, but he basically told me that he didn't have any insurance.

(Some ellipses added and one in original.) At this point, Spillner essentially requested that the court strike Officer Takamiya's response in accordance with Spillner's motion to suppress. The court indicated that it "w[ould] take [Spillner's] objection under advisement." Spillner's counsel then cross-examined Officer Takamiya as follows:

Q ... [Y]ou did not observe any outward signs of any traffic violations, isn't that true?

A That's true.

. . . .

Q And he pulled over without incident?

A Yes.

. . . .

Q And you pulled him over . . . on the assumption that he had no driver's license and was not insured?

A Yes.

. . . .

Q Now, from [your earlier traffic stop of Spillner] to March 1st, 2005, you don't have any first-hand knowledge whether or not he obtained a license in those two weeks, isn't that true?

A That's true.

Q You don't have any first-hand knowledge whether or not he obtained insurance ... in those two weeks, isn't that true?

A That's true.

. . . .

Q You just assumed based on your prior encounter with him that he wasn't insured and he had no license?

. . . .

A . . . As far as the driver's license, that's an assumption. As far as the insurance, I stopped his girlfriend driving that same truck one week prior without insurance with the same tinted front windshield.

Q . . . But between the time that you stopped and cited his girlfriend and when you stopped and cited him on March 1st, ... you don't have any first-hand knowledge whether or not the vehicle was insured in that one week's time?

A That's correct.

The district court also received into evidence, over Spillner's objection, what purported to be a self-authenticating record from the City and County of Honolulu's Division of Motor Vehicle, Licensing and Permits demonstrating that Spillner did not have a license on March 1, 2005. Without express reasoning, the district court denied Spillner's motions to suppress and for judgment of acquittal. As memorialized in its January 4, 2006 judgments, the district court found Spillner guilty as charged and sentenced him to a total of $149.00 in fees, 330 hours of community service, and a one-year suspension of driving privileges.

B. The ICA's Disposition Of Spillner's Appeal

On January 20, 2006, Spillner filed a timely notice of appeal. On direct appeal, he reiterated, inter alia, his position that his "stop and seizure ... was not supported by ... a reasonable suspicion based on specific and articulable facts ... that any criminal activity was afoot. The interrogation was therefore without ... justification. The evidence obtained ... and the resulting charges constitute `fruits of the poisonous tree.'" (Citing State v. Poaipuni, 98 Hawai`i 387, 392, 49 P.3d 353, 358 (2002).) Specifically, Spillner argued that, inasmuch as Officer Takamiya, by his own admission, witnessed no violation in progress, he stopped Spillner's vehicle solely on the "assumption that Spillner had no driver's license and that the vehicle was not insured," based in turn on the traffic stop that had occurred two weeks earlier. (Emphasis omitted.) (Citing United States v. Sandoval, 829 F.Supp. 355, 360 (D.Utah 1993) (mem.), rev'd, 29 F.3d 537, 538 (10th Cir.1994); Robinson v. State, 388 So.2d 286, 290 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1980).) Spillner attempted to distinguish State v. Kaleohano, 99 Hawai`i 370, 56 P.3d 138 (2002), by noting that, in contrast to the police officer in Kaleohano, whose "prior knowledge of the motorist's criminal history ... `heightened' . . . initial suspicions," Officer Takamiya had no "`specific articulable facts indicating the probability...

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