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.