Inventory Searches do not Automatically Render the Discovery of Evidence Inevitable
State v. Rodridgues a.k.a. Rodrigues II (HSC October 12, 2012)
Background. Marco Rodrigues was sleeping in his car at the Hanamaulu Beach Park near Lihue, Kauai. Officer Scott Williamson saw that the safety sticker on the car had expired so he went up to the car, woke up Rodrigues, and asked for his license and registration. He had no documents, but identified himself. Officer Williamson ran a warrant check, discovered three outstanding bench warrants, and arrested him. He was handcuffed when Officer Williamson searched him "from top to bottom." Officer Williamson pulled his pockets inside out and found a bag containing crystal methamphetamine. He was taken to the Kauai Police Department, where an inventory search had been conducted. He was then taken to the cellblock at the station.
Rodrigues was charged with promoting a dangerous drug in the third degree. HRS § 712-1243. Rodrigues filed a motion to suppress on the grounds that the warrantless search of his pockets violated Art. I, Sec. 7 of the Hawai'i Constitution and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal constitution. The search incident to the arrest for outstanding bench warrants went well beyond the constitutionally permissible scope. At the hearing, KPD Sergeant Eric Kaui testified that pursuant to regular KPD procedures, an inventory search includes a search of the arrestee's clothing. The circuit court granted the motion and suppressed the evidence. The prosecution appealed and the ICA held that the circuit court correctly concluded that the search was an unconstitutional search incident to an arrest. However, the ICA remanded the case for the circuit court to determine whether the prosecution could present clear and convincing evidence that the evidence would have been inevitably discovered by the police. The case was reported here.
On remand, the circuit court concluded that the inevitable discovery exception did not apply and suppressed the evidence again. The circuit court concluded that the prosecution failed to establish that Rodrigues was "incapable of retrieving and discarding the contraband from his person without an officer's notice between the time of his arrest and the inventory search." There was no evidence that Rodrigues was retained in a way that prevented him from discarding the baggie within his pocket. Furthermore, the prosecution failed to show that the police had continually observed Rodrigues during transport and up until the inventory search. The prosecution appealed again. This time the ICA concluded that the circuit court erred in failing to make necessary findings and conclusions; the ICA also held that the prosecution met its burden in proving inevitable discovery. Judge Reifurth dissented. Rodrigues petitioned for certiorari.
The Inevitable Discovery Doctrine and the Exclusionary Rule. When evidence is obtained in violation of Article I, Sec. 7 of the Hawai'i Constitution, it is generally excluded from use by the prosecution at trial. Cite. The Hawai'i exclusionary rule is distinct from the federal exclusionary rule stemming from interpretations of the Fourth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. State v. Lopez, 78 Hawai'i 433, 896 P.2d 889 (1995).
An exception to the exclusionary rule is inevitable discovery. Evidence will be admitted at trial, despite the constitutional violation, only if the prosecution presents "clear and convincing evidence that any evidence obtained in violation of article I, section 7, would inevitably have been discovered by lawful means." Id. at 451, 896 P.2d at 907.
The Prosecution's Hypothetical. The HSC agreed that the prosecution did nothing more than posit a hypothetical. Although the meth was unlawfully seized, it would have been inevitably discovered at an inventory search at the KPD cellblock. However, the HSC noted that the prosecution simply failed to show that the meth could have been lost, fallen out, or discarded between the time of the arrest in Lihue to the transport and eventual inventory search. There was no evidence backing the hypothetical.
No Independent Investigation, No Certainties, Not Inevitable . . . The HSC added that in Nix v. Williams, 467 U. S. 431 (1984), and Lopez, independent lines of investigation had already been pursued when the constitutional violation occurred. Had the independent investigation proceeded, it was clear that the evidence would have been found. Unlike those cases, there was no evidence showing that any independent investigation was taking place.
The Problem with the ICA's Holding. The HSC noted that it was correcting the ICA's holding because it would have been a situation in which the inevitable exception would have swallowed the exclusionary rule. According to the HSC, nearly every unconstitutional search "would be validated upon the showing by the State that, after the search, the defendant was transported to the cellblock and an inventory search conducted" and would thus defeat the purpose of the exclusionary rule. It would render narrowly-defined exceptions to the warrant requirement meaningless.
So how DO you Prove Inevitability? Proving that evidence would have been there anyways is always difficult to think about. Here, the HSC made it clear that simply proving that an inventory search was done after the arrest and transport was not enough to show that the evidence obtained after the arrest would have been inevitably found. This is because there was nothing showing that Rodrigues could have discarded the meth from his pocket while under arrest. In other words, there is no evidence showing that it was impossible to get rid of the meth during the ride over to cellblock. Moreover, there was no independent investigations taking place that would have lead to the evidence anyways. These seem to be the two guiding factors here.