Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a gun possession case presenting an issue that frequently arises in many Michigan drug cases, or other possessory offenses. The case required the court to determine if the police officers’ approach of the defendant’s vehicle constituted a seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Finding that the officer’s reason for approaching was not to investigate criminal activity, but to check on the welfare of the defendant, the court rejected the defendants’ motion to suppress.

Generally, police officers need a warrant to conduct a search or seizure. However, over the years, courts have allowed several exceptions to the warrant requirement. Not all encounters between police officers and citizens are searches or seizures. Under federal constitutional law, a seizure occurs when “a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.”

According to the court’s opinion in this case, police officers received a call reporting someone was passed out behind the wheel at a fast-food drive-thru. Officers responded to the scene and approached the defendant’s vehicle. After a short time, police were able to wake the defendant up. Once the defendant was awake, the officers asked him out of the vehicle to check on his well being because he had fallen asleep behind the wheel.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Michigan gun case involving a police officer’s purported inventory search of the defendant’s vehicle. The case is a good example of what police officers can – and cannot – do during a valid Michigan traffic stop.

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer observed the defendant driving a car with a license plate light that was hanging in front of the license plate. The officer followed the defendant into a parking lot, and the defendant parked in a spot in the far corner of the lot. As the officer approached, the defendant explained that his license was suspended. The defendant provided a Department of Corrections identification card.

Upon the officer’s request, the defendant got out of the vehicle, at which point he was patted down. The officer found a pocket knife, but nothing else. The officer then placed the defendant in the rear of his police car to verify the status of his suspended license. The officer then realized that the defendant had two warrants out for his arrest. The officer repeatedly asked the defendant to consent to a search of the vehicle, and the defendant refused consent each time. The officer then approached the vehicle to speak with the passenger, who also had a suspended license.

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