HSC Invalidates Warrant that Fails to Identify the Ohana Unit at a Single Residence

State v. Rodrigues (HSC December 13, 2019)
Background. Big Island police officers submitted an affidavit for a search warrant to the district court. Officer Marco Segobia was the affiant. Officer Segobia averred that he received information from a confidential informant that Rodney Rodrigues, Jr. had sold crystal methamphetamine multiple times. Officer Segobia stated that he directed the CI to arrange a drug deal with Rodrigues and claimed that the CI performed a controlled purchase of methamphetamine from Rodrigues’s residence at the corner of Konalani Street and Puuhalo Street in Kailua-Kona. The residence was described as a two-story light colored wood siding structure with a white colored roof. Officer Segobia maintained surveillance from outside as the CI went into he residence and came out with crystal methamphetamine. The affidavit requested a search of the following space:

A residence located within the County and State of Hawai‘i and within the District of Kona. Your affiant describes the residence as a three bedroom, 2 bathroom residence that [is] light colored, [and] has a white colored rooftop. The residence is located at [] Puuhalo Street in Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i. your affiant checked the Hawai‘i County Property Tax website and located the residence, which is owned by Yolanda M. RODRIGUES of address [] Puuahlo Street, Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i 96740. . . . To include but not limited to all rooms, and other parts therein, the patio or lanai of such unit, and any attached garages and carport, attached storage rooms, garbage cans and containers located within[.]

The district court issued a warrant authorizing the search of the described residence. The police searched the entire house and found crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, various pills, paraphernalia, and close to $1,000 in cash. Rodrigues was charged with serious drug offenses after the police searched his residence on the Big Island. He moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the warrant failed to define mention the separate and distinct ‘ohana unit that the police actually searched.

At the hearing, Officer Segobia testified that Rodrigues was living in a downstairs unit of the residence and that the upstairs unit is “completely separate from the downstairs unit.” Officer Segobia maintained that the downstairs unit is not an ‘ohana, but an extension of the main house. He added that he had personal knowledge through his friend, Nick Ah Nee, that Rodrigues lived in the upstairs unit and the downstairs unit was separate. In fact, Ah Nee and his wife used to reside in the downstairs unit before it was occupied by Rodrigues. The defense called Yolanda Rodrigues, who testified that she rents out subunits within the residence. She explained that the downstairs unit is separate and has its own kitchen, bathroom, and lock. Rodrigues was living there in the downstairs unit. The circuit court—Hon. Judge Henry Nakamoto—granted the motion and suppressed the evidence. The prosecution appealed. The ICA—Chief Judge Lisa Ginoza and Judge Alexa Fujise—vacated the suppression order. Judge Katherine Leonard dissented. Rodrigues petitioned for review by the HSC.

The Particularity Requirement to the Warrant. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches, seizures and invasions of privacy shall not be violated; and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause . . . and particularity describing the place to be searched[.]” Haw. Const. Art. I, Sec. 7. Whether a warrant satisfies the particularity requirement is determined on a case-by-case basis, “taking into account all of the surrounding facts and circumstances.” State v. Anderson, 84 Hawaii 462, 467, 935 P.2d 1007, 1012 (1997). Courts examine language of the warrant itself as well as the “executing officer’s prior knowledge as to the place intended to be searched, and the description of the place to be searched appearing in the probable cause affidavit in support of the search warrant.” Id.

Multiple-Occupancy Dwellings and Particularity. When a search warrant authorizes the search into a multiple-occupancy dwelling, the warrant is “invalid if it fails to describe the particular subunit to be searched with sufficient definiteness to preclude a search of one more units indiscriminately.” Id. The HSC also noted that “general description of a multiple-occupancy building” does not satisfy the particularity requirement. 68 Am. Jur. 2d Searches & Seizures § 224, 407 (2010). The HSC restated the law and identifies two prongs to determine the particularity requirement for multiple occupancy dwellings:

The particularity requirement is not satisfied and a warrant is invalid if (1) the structure would be viewed as a multiple-occupancy structure from its outward appearance; and (2) the affiant or other investigating or executing officers knew or had reason to know of the structure’s actual multiple-occupancy character prior to the commencement of the execution of the warrant.

If it Looks Separate, it Needs more Particularity . . . The HSC applied this two-prong test. It first held that there was an outward appearance that the downstairs part was separate and distinct from the upstairs. It was painted green while the rest of the residence was light-colored. It had no wood siding like the rest of the house. Moreover, the downstairs unit was not connected by the same roof. There was also a separate entrance. The CI even walked along a separate path to the downstairs unit.
This evidence indicated to the HSC that the circuit court was correct in finding that the structure had multiple residences from its outward appearance.

As for the second prong, the HSC held that Officer Segobia had “significant knowledge” that the residence held multiple families. He even had personal knowledge that the downstairs unit was separate because his friend Ah Nee used to live there. This all shows that Officer Segobia knew or should have known that the residence was a multi-unit dwelling with more than one occupant. Thus, the warrant’s failure to specify with particularity the downstairs studio unit rendered it invalid. The circuit court did not err in granting Rodrigues’s motion.

How Many People have to Live there to Make it a “Multi-Occupant” Residence? The HSC noted that this level of particularity is needed whenever there is a “multi-occupancy residence.” In applying the two-prong approach, the HSC also noted that the officer knew or should have known that the residence held multiple families. It would seem that a large, single family is not enough to require this two-prong approach. Several people can live in a home without it being “multi-occupancy.” Then again, if the target is a drug-dealing son, should the police have authorization to search every single room of the home—including those rooms that are not occupied by the son? Every shed? Every separate ohana? Where do we draw the line? The line is harder and harder to draw.

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