Recently, a Michigan appellate court issued an opinion stemming from a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence based on his Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In this case, the defendant was a passenger in a vehicle. The police pulled over the vehicle for having cracks in the windshield. When deputies approached the car, they noticed firearms on the floor, sitting in front of the defendant. The deputies searched the car and discovered that the gun was loaded. They also discovered heroin and cocaine behind the passenger door handle. The defendant was charged with several serious offenses and convicted.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, provides for the “right of the people to be secure in their persons..and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Barring certain exceptions, searches and seizures that are conducted without a warrant are unreasonable. However, law enforcement may stop and detain a vehicle if they can articulate a reasonable basis for their suspicion that a vehicle or one of its occupants are violating the law. Michigan courts have held that determinations regarding reasonable suspicion must be made on a case-by-case basis-evaluating the totality of the circumstances. The credibility of a police officer is often a key consideration in these cases.
In this case, the court found that the deputies’ stop of the vehicle was lawful. The court cited the deputies’ testimony in which they testified that the cracked windshield provided them with a reasonable suspicion that one of the vehicle’s occupants was violating a law. Next, the court found that the seizure of the firearm and controlled substances were proper. The court reasoned that under the “plain view” doctrine, the police officer may properly search a vehicle, without a warrant, if the illegal items are in a position from which the officer can view the item.