Illegal Search and Seizure Michigan
By Daniel T. Geherin
The Fourth Amendment grants us all protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Before the Michigan police can conduct a search, they need probable cause or a search warrant, and we’re granted important legal rights in the process. If you’re facing a criminal charge of any kind, an experienced criminal defense attorney in Michigan for illegal search and seizures is standing by to help.
Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
The Fourth Amendment prohibits the U.S. government from engaging in unreasonable searches and seizures. This means the police don’t have the authority to search you, your home, your car, or your belongings without your consent, probable cause, or a search warrant.
In order to obtain a warrant, the police must proceed in good faith that is based on reliable information, and that demonstrates good cause to proceed with a search. Even with a warrant in hand, the authorities can only search the areas specified in the warrant. For example, a warrant to search your car doesn’t grant the right to search your home – and vice-versa. In addition, items that are outside the scope of the warrant can only be seized if they’re in plain view.
Any evidence gathered during a search and seizure that is deemed to be unreasonable is an illegal search, and can’t be used against the accused. In other words, an unreasonable search and seizure can derail the prosecution’s case.
Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment doesn’t guarantee against every search and seizure process but it protects us from those the law deems unreasonable. The matter of being reasonable in this context is determined by balancing the following primary interests:
● The individual’s right to privacy
● The government’s legitimate interests, including public safety
Search and seizure inside of your home without a valid warrant is considered unreasonable. There are some instances when a warrantless search of your home is allowed, including:
● If you give the officer consent to conduct a search.
● The search is incident to a legal arrest.
● The authorities have probable cause to search, and there are exigent – or pressing – circumstances involved.
● The item in question was in plain view.
When an officer has probable cause to believe that evidence related to criminal activity is contained within, they have the legal right to search any areas in the vehicle where evidence might be found. The matter of probable cause can become a sticking point.
To conduct a traffic stop in the first place, the officer only needs reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation took place, which is a relatively low legal bar.
If you’re being arrested – which requires probable cause to begin with – the police have the right to search you for their own protection. Running away from the police or engaging in any sudden movement also triggers this right. In any other situation, traditional probable cause is required to search your person.
Before the police can search or seize your property or search or arrest you, they must have either a warrant or probable cause. Probable cause is established when there’s enough evidence, or there are enough facts to reasonably determine that a crime is being committed, likely has been committed, or likely will be committed.
To ensure that the resulting arrest or search and seizure holds up in court, the officer must be able to share the facts upon which their determination of probable cause is based.
A common example of probable cause is when an officer pulls a driver over for a driving infraction, such as drifting in and out of their lane. If the officer then finds that the driver’s speech is slurred and their breath smells of alcohol, probable cause for a DWI arrest is likely established.
When probable cause can’t be established, any resulting search and seizure activity is illegal.
The police do have the authority to enter a dwelling without a warrant when a pressing situation leads to probable cause that a crime was recently committed there and evidence relevant to the crime – or the perpetrator of the crime – is likely contained inside. Additional instances when warrantless searches are deemed reasonable include:
● When the officer receives consent to proceed with a search
● When the search goes hand in hand with a legal arrest.
In order to obtain a search warrant from a judge, the officer must show that there’s probable cause to justify the search in question. This involves submitting an affidavit that lays out the legal reasoning for the search and carefully describes the place that will be searched and the items that are sought after. The judge is tasked with evaluating the circumstances involved and with determining the likelihood that the items sought will be discovered.
The laws related to search warrants are exacting. The prosecution’s case relies on the evidence obtained as a result of a search warrant, and any irregularities can tank the case.
The police must have a reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop, but any driving blip is likely to suffice. To legally search your vehicle, they must have probable cause to believe that there’s evidence of a crime within. If the officer asks for permission to search your vehicle and you give it, they have the right to search, and you’ll have no further legal recourse.
It’s important to note that the probable cause the police need to search your vehicle during a traffic stop must be articulable. This means the officer must be able to state their solid reasoning for conducting the search – in the same way they would if they obtained a warrant.
It’s illegal to search your car during a traffic stop without probable cause. If the officer plans on arresting you, they may have the right to search your car in relation to their own safety, but this only includes areas that are easily accessible to you, and that could conceal something dangerous. The police don’t have the authority to go fishing for evidence in your vehicle without a well-defined reason.
Consult an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Michigan for Illegal Search and Seizures Today
Your Fourth Amendment rights are of critical importance, and knowing these rights is key to protecting yourself from unreasonable search and seizure. Daniel T. Geherin is the founding and lead attorney at the Michigan law firm Geherin Law Group, and he’s proud to be one of the few attorneys in the state who are board-certified in criminal law. Our savvy criminal defense attorneys in Michigan for illegal search and seizures dedicate their practice to fiercely protecting the legal rights of our valued clients – in pursuit of advantageous case resolutions – and we're here for you, too. Because the outcome of your case can hang in the balance, we encourage you to reach out and submit a contact form or call us at 734-263-2780 for more information about what we can do to help you today.