Thursday, June 18, 2015

Huge Landowners Can’t have a 1,000-Acre “Residence, Including Yard.”

State v. Guyton (HSC June 8, 2015)
Background. John Varel got a restraining order and later an injunction against Evans Guyton. The order prohibited Guyton from “[e]ntering or visiting [Varel’s] residence, including yard and garage.” Varel lives on a 1,000-acre property out in Waihee on Maui.  Guyton was later charged with violating a restraining order or injunction. HRS § 604-10.5(h). Specifically, the complaint alleged that Guyton of “entering and/or visiting the premises including yard and garage of the residence, and/or place of employment.”

At his trial, Varel described his vast property, including a macadamia nut farm, conservation lands, and his residence. The property starts at the highway and goes all the way up the mountains to the watershed. He testified that he never gave anyone permission to dirt bike on the property. Todd Arnold testified that he was hiking on the Varel property when he saw Guyton riding his dirt bike with others along the ridges near the outer parts of the property. Arnold testified that he knew that they were on the Varel property because he knows where the ridge lines are and that Varel pointed out to him the edge of his property. Varel was recalled to the stand and corroborated Arnold. Guyton then testified and acknowledged that Varel’s property is off limits. The district court found Guyton guilty and fined him $500. Guyton appealed. The ICA affirmed.

How to Construe an Injunction Order. Before punishing a person for violating an injunction order, the order must be so “clear and unambiguous” that a person of ordinary intelligence can “ascertain from the four corners of the order precisely what acts are forbidden.” LeMay v. Leander, 92 Hawaii 614, 625, 994 P.2d 546, 557 (2000).
The issue in this case centered around the injunction order prohibiting Guyton from entering Varel’s “residence, including yard.” According to the HSC, that language is clear and unambiguous. The words must “be taken in their ordinary and familiar signification, and regard is to be had to their general and popular use.” In re Taxes of Johnson, 44 Haw. 519, 530, 356 P.2d 1028, 1034 (1960). Courts may “resort to legal or other well accepted dictionaries as one way to determine the ordinary meaning of certain terms not statutorily defined.” State v. Pali, 129 Hawaii 363, 370, 300 P.3d 1022, 1029 (2013).

“Residence, Including Yard” Doesn’t Cover a 1,000-Acre Property. Turning to the Oxford English Dictionary, the HSC examined the words “residence” and “yard.” “Residence” means a person’s home, the place where someone lives; “yard” is a piece of ground adjoining a building or house. And so based on this, the HSC held that the “residence, including yard” encompassed the house where Varel lives and the adjacent area surrounding it. Interpreting the injunction order so that the entire 1,000-acre property constitutes “residence, including yard” would run afoul with the plain and ordinary meaning of the words. And so the district court and the ICA erred in interpreting the injunction order so expansively.

Even if the Words were Ambiguous, Lenity Would Favor the Defendant. The HSC then went on to examine what would happen if the words were ambiguous. “Where a criminal statute is ambiguous . . . the statute must be strictly construed against the government and in favor of the accused.” State v. Shimabukuro, 100 Hawaii 324, 327, 60 P.3d 274, 277 (2002). So even if the rule of lenity applied, the order must be construed so that it cannot include the outliers of the Varel property. The HSC reversed the judgment because there was insufficient evidence that Varel had actually violated the injunction order.

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