LIHU‘E — A jury found a Kalaheo resident guilty on two of three driving-related charges but remained hung on whether presenting his Native Hawaiian license to police was illegal.
Louis Lance Keoni Palama, 48, waited three days from the start of his trial until the verdict was presented late morning Thursday to Fifth Circuit Court Chief Judge Randal Valenciano.
The trial was in regard to a traffic stop on July 22, 2010. Palama was accused of driving without a license, proper registration and no-fault insurance. He did not have a valid State of Hawai‘i driver’s license at the time and presented his Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi driver’s license.
Deputy Prosecutor Jared Auna sought to prove that Palama was knowingly aware that he was driving without a license and without insurance — and that past convictions made it clear that he understood the state license was invalid.
Tobin argued that the state did not establish the vehicle belonged to Palama, nor did it provide evidence that the Kingdom of Atooi license met the conditions of an illegal license as fictitious, altered or cut.
Tobin said Palama borrowed the truck from a friend to run errands and was not aware it did not have insurance. He said the statute allows for a reasonable belief to expect a borrowed vehicle to be insured.
Kaua‘i Police Officer Anthony Abolos testified to making the traffic stop in the Kalaleo area a year ago. He spotted a pickup truck with no visible safety check sticker, a cracked windshield, a missing tailgate and camper door.
Abolos testified that Palama was the driver and said the truck did not belong to him. He said his license was expired and presented an Atooi license that was due to expire the following month.
Abolos also said Palama claimed the officer had no jurisdiction in the area and was harassing him.
The local resident with their name still on the vehicle registration testified to owning the truck five years ago but did not know it was still on the road. The resident said the vehicle was used by their parents until it broke down and was given away for parts.
An employee of the State Department of Finance testified to the affidavit that showed the witness was the registered owner of the vehicle in a notice of transfer.
A County of Kaua‘i Motor Vehicles Section employee testified to Palama’s records and said he did not have a valid driver’s license at the time of the traffic stop.
The employee also testified that the state honors driver’s licenses exemptions and recognizes those of the other 49 states and several countries — and that the Atooi license was not among them.
The Kingdom of Atooi drivers license is not issued from the State of Hawai‘i. Nowhere on the license does it say State of Hawai‘i or United States of America.
Auna argued that this makes it fictitious under statute for use in operating a vehicle on public roads.
Tobin said the Atooi driver’s license was presented to Palama by his king and that he believes this allows him to drive. According to the statute, he said the license is a toy.
Tobin said when the officer was presented with the Atooi license that he asked to see a valid license. Palama was born and raised in Waimea, and is very proud of his family, culture and heritage and has great respect for the community, his roots as a member of the Kingdom of Atooi — and said proudly that it was his license.
There were 12 jurors and two alternates. One of the alternates replaced a dismissed juror prior to closing arguments. A second juror was called to approach the bench but was not removed.
Palama’s attorney Timothy John Tobin stated in court that Palama intends to appeal the two remaining guilty verdicts for driving without no-fault insurance and without proof of registration following the sentencing on Dec. 29.
Judge Valenciano dismissed the remaining charge.
The King of the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi, Dayne Gonsalves, also known as Ariki Nui Alea Aipoalani, was present outside of the court as a potential witness and was not called to testify. He said informally that the Atooi have the right to make their own identification cards and appropriate credentials as a sovereign nation recognized under the Te Moana Nui A Kiva or Pacific Island United Nations.
Gonsalves is currently awaiting a state appeal on a case that involves himself and a co-defendant in a similar case where he presented a Hawai‘i Federal Marshall badge, which identified him as a law enforcement officer in the Kingdom of Atooi.
The defense also asserted that the badge is not an impersonation of a State of Hawai‘i law enforcement officer and as such is a legitimate and legal title that is not in violation of U.S. laws.
The case claims that law enforcement is part of the right to “maintain and strengthen distinct legal institutions” to encourage nation-building within an indigenous nation. The claim asserts the rights of indigenous peoples according to the United Nations Declaration, which became official policy of the United States in 2010, and the rights granted by the state constitution, and the Native Hawaiian Recognition Act.
• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or by emailing tlaventure@ thegardenisland.com.