Federal Law Controls Michigan Search and Seizure Law

If federal search and seizure law is more restrictive than state law, federal law is controlling. A defense lawyer with federal experience will likely provide the most robust possible defense.

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State and Federal Search and Seizure Law

In federal court, federal law controls search and seizure law. In Michigan courts, search and seizure law is controlled by a mix of federal and state law. State law judges must typically follow the most restrictive interpretation between federal and state court decisions. The 4th Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Article 1, Section 11 of the Michigan Constitution of 1963, guarantees our right to be secure in our homes and possessions from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Informational Encounters

Police officers can approach an individual in a public area and ask questions. Such activity is allowed because it is not a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. An individual approached in such a manner remains free to ignore the officer and go on his way. Not every police­ citizen encounter involves a seizure. A police officer may address questions to a person on the street to try to gain information. This type of encounter, unaccompanied by coercion or detention, falls outside the Fourth Amendment because it involves no seizure. These types of encounters do not require any level of “cause.” When an officer approaches a person in a public place and seeks voluntary cooperation through noncoercive questioning, there is no restraint on that person’s liberty, meaning the person is not seized. Similarly, a police officer’s decision to follow someone does not alone amount to intimating conduct that would cause a reasonable person to believe they are not at liberty to leave. Constitutional limitations on Michigan and federal police searches or seizures only apply if a search or seizure occurred.

Where an officer approaches a person in a public place and seeks voluntary cooperation through noncoercive questioning, there has not been a restraint on their liberty, and the person is not seized for Fourth Amendment purposes. If the police approach a driver without using the “color of law” to effectuate a stop (e.g., after they pull into a parking lot on their own), then constitutional restraints are not in play.

Investigational Encounters

Law enforcement has an interest in the prevention and detection of crime. In securing that interest, a police officer can investigate circumstances giving them a reason to suspect criminal activity might be afoot, forcibly detain an individual for a brief period, and may direct questions to that individual. However, law enforcement officers cannot force someone to answer questions. These investigative encounters involve seizures only when the individual reasonably believes they aren’t free to leave. The level of cause for an investigative encounter is reasonable suspicion. A third-party’s report that a driver violated the law might be enough to support a valid traffic stop; however, an anonymous tip must be corroborated.

Seizures Under Michigan Law

A seizure occurs only when, in view of all the circumstances, a reasonable person believes they are not free to leave. A seizure may happen using physical force or by submission to an officer’s authority. Examples of evidence of a seizure might include the threatening presence of several officers, the display of a weapon by an officer, some physical touching of the person or the citizen, or the use of language or tone of voice indicating compliance with the officer’s request. Suppose a police officer stops their car behind a parked vehicle. Is the vehicle seized? Possibly. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in 2021 that the vehicle is not seized if it can leave, even if it requires some maneuvering of the vehicle.

A search must be valid under federal law, even in a state case.

A search and seizure warrant issued by a Michigan state court judge and executed only by state law enforcement officers is valid in a federal criminal prosecution, and any evidence seized is admissible. In other words, Michigan’s search and seizure law is controlled by federal law, unless the law in Michigan is more restrictive.

Requirements for a Valid Search Warrant

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires, relative to search and seizure in Michigan or the United States, the following:

  1. a neutral and detached magistrate issues a warrant,
  2. only on a finding of probable cause, and
  3. the place to be searched and items to be seized are described with particularity. If these elements are met, the warrant is valid, even if it has a problem under state law.
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The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Imagine if a police officer in Michigan enters your home without a warrant. Suppose that officer searches the home, discovers evidence of a crime, and seizes the evidence for court. Is the evidence admissible? It might depend on the circumstances. If the police had good reason to believe they would discover evidence of a crime, any evidence found would likely be suppressed because they did not obtain a warrant before entry.

Conversely, what if the police entered a home with a reasonable belief that someone needed medical assistance? While in the home, the officers observe evidence of a crime, such as cocaine on a table. That evidence would likely be admissible in court regardless of whether there was a warrant because a court would find the entry into the home was legal due to “exigent circumstances.”

Traffic Stops

A traffic stop by police requires reasonable, articulable, and particular suspicion of a violation of the law. The prerequisite to a valid arrest is a valid stop. There is no bright line rule to test whether the suspicion giving rise to an investigatory stop was reasonable, articulable, and particular. The totality of the circumstances, as understood and interpreted by law enforcement officers, not legal scholars, must yield a particular suspicion that the individual has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.

In Michigan, a brief investigatory stop (not an arrest) is permitted where police officers have a reasonable suspicion, based upon objective observation, that the person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal wrongdoing. In analyzing the totality of the circumstances, law enforcement officers must consider the modes or patterns of operation of certain kinds of lawbreakers. From this data, a trained officer draws inferences and makes deductions and inferences to the best of their ability. Where a police officer observes unusual conduct, which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot, an officer may briefly stop the suspicious person and make reasonable inquiries to confirm or dispel their suspicions. The necessary facts for an investigatory stop are fewer than those required for a search and seizure under Michigan law.

The following rules apply to stopping, searching, and seizing motor vehicles and their contents:

  • Reasonableness is the test to be applied for both the stop of and the search of moving motor vehicles.
  • A judge will determine reasonableness from the facts and circumstances of each case.
  • Fewer foundational facts are necessary to support a finding of reasonableness when moving vehicles are involved, as opposed to a house or home.
  • Fewer facts are necessary to support a stop of a vehicle for investigatory purposes where the police conduct both the stop and a search.

Pretext Stops Under Michigan Search and Seizure Law

Search and seizure law in Michigan is controversial relative to pretext stops. As long as a police officer has a valid objective reason for stopping a vehicle, it does not matter if the stop is a pretext to stop the vehicle for a crime for which they have no probable cause. A police officer’s subjective intentions play no role in ordinary, probable cause Fourth Amendment analysis.

The Duration of a Vehicle Stop Much be Reasonable

Reasonable suspicion enables the officer to briefly detain a vehicle and make reasonable inquiries to confirm or dispel the officer’s suspicions. The issue is whether the police diligently pursued an investigation likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly during the time it was necessary to detain the defendant.

Arrests Under Search and Seizure Analysis

The government has an interest in prosecuting violations of its laws. Violations of criminal laws are public wrongs, and the prosecution brings charges on behalf of “the People.” An arrest is a type of seizure. The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States require probable cause to justify an arrest of an individual. A police officer has probable cause for arrest if, when the officer makes the arrest, the reasonably trustworthy facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge were sufficient to warrant a prudent person in believing that the defendant had committed or was committing an offense. For an arrest to be lawful, an arresting officer must possess information demonstrating probable cause to believe that an offense has occurred and that the defendant committed it.

When it is apparent from the circumstances that the defendant’s arrest was unconstitutional, an experienced constitutional rights criminal defense lawyer must move to suppress all evidence obtained as fruit of the poisonous tree.

Reasonable Cause, OWI Investigations, and Michigan Search and Seizure Law

A police officer can request a preliminary breath test (PBT) from someone operating a vehicle if they have reasonable cause to believe that a person was operating a vehicle and that person’s ability to operate their vehicle was affected by the consumption of alcohol or drugs. A police officer can legally justify an arrest under Michigan law based, in whole or in part, upon the results of a PBT. Reasonable cause means having enough information to lead an ordinarily careful person to believe that the defendant committed a crime.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney with State and Federal Defense Expertise

If you, or someone you know, is facing state or federal criminal charges, it is essential that they have legal representation that is second to none. If there is an issue with Michigan search and seizure law, the expertise of a highly trained and fearless defense attorney is needed. When dealing with the possible loss of your freedom, you do not want your future placed in the hands of an attorney that “dabbles” in criminal law. You want an expert! The reasonable and affordable attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have decades of experience exclusively practicing criminal defense.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

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