Vehicle Searches After Pretextual Michigan Traffic Stops

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.

Here, looking at the totality of the circumstances, the court found that the deputies lawfully stopped the vehicle and saw the defendant move in a way that indicated he was armed. One deputy noticed the firearm, and another noticed that the defendant was trying to conceal the item. Moreover, after the deputies removed the defendant and seized his firearm, they noticed what they believed to be drugs. Ultimately, the weapon was in plain view before the deputies removed the defendant from the car, and the drugs were in plain view when the officers opened the door. Therefore, the search was permissible.

Of course, there are often two sides to every story. Whether the search occurred as the police stated during the motion cannot be ascertained, however, a dedicated criminal defense attorney can skillfully cross-examine police officers and other witnesses to expose weaknesses in their version of the events leading up to an arrest.

Have You Been Accused of a Crime in Michigan?

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime in Michigan, contact us at Michigan Defense Law. Attorney Paul J. Tafelski, has extensive experience handling criminal cases involving a variety of offenses, including Michigan gun possession cases, drug offenses, and allegations of domestic violence. If you are facing serious criminal charges, contact us at 248-451-2200 to schedule a free consultation.

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