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.
The officer asked the passenger about any illegal items in the car, and she denied all knowledge. The passenger was allowed to leave. The officer then tried to get the defendant to consent to a search again, which the defendant refused. The officer told the defendant, “if I tow the car, I’ll have to search” it. Finally, the officer towed the car and, during an inventory search, police discovered a firearm and narcotics.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence found inside the car based on the officer’s failure to comply with police department regulations regarding the towing of vehicles. The defendant claimed that the officer towed his vehicle when it was not necessary, and only for the purposes of conducting a search that the defendant would not consent to.
The court first noted that, when a car is properly impounded police can perform an inventory search of the vehicle, provided police follow proper procedure. However, here, the court found that the car was not properly impounded and police did not follow the proper procedure. The court noted that nothing in the police directives or traffic laws allowed for the vehicle to be towed, and agreed that police towed the vehicle just so they could search it. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s motion.
Have You Been Arrested for a Michigan Crime?
If you have recently been arrested and charged with a Michigan drug crime, or any other offense related to the search of your vehicle, contact Attorney Paul J. Tafelski for immediate assistance. Attorney Tafelski is a dedicated Michigan criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing those facing serious allegations. He offers prospective clients a free consultation, in which he will discuss their case and what he can do to help. To learn more, call 248-451-2200 to schedule a free consultation today.