Michigan Court Determines Officers’ Interaction with Defendant that Led to Search of Vehicle Was Permitted as a “Welfare Check”

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.

The officers asked the defendant if he was drinking or if he had taken any medication. The defendant responded “no.” The officers then asked if there was a gun in the car. Initially, the defendant said there was not, but later told the officers that he had a gun in the car. The officers then arrested the defendant.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that the police officers approached his vehicle and engaged in questions without any legal basis. The defendant claimed that the gun was recovered as a result of this illegal seizure.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument, finding that the officers’ initial approach of the vehicle was not a seizure. The court explained that not every interaction between a police officer and a motorist is a seizure. Here, the officers were not initially investigating any allegation of wrongdoing, but were checking to make sure that the defendant did not need any medical treatment. The court explained that the defendant answered the questions voluntarily, and that the stop and subsequent search was permissible.

Have You Been Arrested for a Michigan Gun Possession Offense?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with the possession of a gun in Detroit or the surrounding areas, contact the dedicated defense attorneys at Michigan Defense Law to discuss your case. The firm’s founder, Paul J. Tafelski is an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney who has a reputation for zealously standing up for the rights of his clients facing serious Michigan gun possession offenses. At Michigan Defense Law, we also represent clients in all types of Michigan drug cases. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation today, call 248-451-2200 today.

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