Michigan Criminal Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

image.pngCooperation, Undercover Drug Deals, Snitching: Using the little fish to get the big fish.

We have found that our clients charged with drug crimes experience a state of insecurity and despair when it comes to doing undercover work or cooperating with the police. This is something that is outside of the comfort zone for nearly everyone, especially the family members of our clients faced with this dilemma.

The classic predicament: Should a person engage in undercover drug deals or hire a lawyer for advice and face the criminal charges in the court system?

PT blog picture.jpgThis year, we have published several blogs dedicated to “frequently asked (criminal law) questions”. Whenever possible, we endeavor to avoid legalese by providing articles in layman’s terms. The focus of this blog is pretrial conferences in Macomb County District Courts.

What is a pretrial conference?

A pretrial conference is a meeting that is attended by the attorneys for the parties in a criminal or civil case. The major purposes of a pretrial conference are to facilitate resolution of a case, management of a case for trial or management of a case regarding pertinent issues (as listed below). A pretrial conference is scheduled after either a criminal or civil case is filed with the court, a case number and a Judge are assigned. In Macomb County, criminal pretrial conferences are held soon after the arraignment. For misdemeanors, which occur in Macomb County, the pretrial conference will always be held at the district court (click here for complete listing of links to Macomb County District Courts). Felony pretrial conferences can occur on the date scheduled for a preliminary examination and again after the case is bound over to the circuit court. A person charged with a crime (the defendant) is required to be present on the date scheduled for pretrial conference. However, he or she is usually not allowed in the conference room with the attorneys. On the other hand, police officers and victim’s rights advocates with court business are allowed in the conference room. Likewise, an alleged victim may be present at the pretrial conference as the prosecutor must obtain the victim’s consent for a plea bargain in most criminal cases.

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The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. In general, a search and seizure of a person or his property requires a search warrant based upon probable cause. The search warrant requirement is intended to avoid random/abusive searches by government officials. However, in Michigan, the police are not required to obtain a search warrant and probable cause is not required for property which is in “plain view” or when a person “consents” to a search.

Plain View: Objects which are in plain view of an officer who has a right to be in that position are subject to seizure without a warrant and without probable cause, or his lawful observations may provide grounds for issuance of a search warrant.

Consent Searches: A person who gives a valid consent to a police officer to search his home or vehicle, may be waiving his 4th Amendment rights. The consent must be given voluntarily and courts must determine on the basis of the totality of the circumstances whether consent has been freely given or has been coerced.

I have represented several clients in Macomb County that have said that the police searched closed compartments of a vehicle or in a dwelling and found illegal contraband leading to drug related or stolen property charges. Upon review of the reports, the police will say that the seized property was in plain view or that our client gave consent to search.

Clearly, there is room for abuse by law enforcement authorities to assert that a thing was in plain view or that a party consented to a search in order to avoid inconvenience, delays or situations where there just is not any probable cause to obtain a search warrant. Of concern are situations when a person is alone in his home or vehicle and cannot produce substantiating witnesses to support inappropriate police conduct. For example, the police may pull over a vehicle on a hunch that there are drugs inside. The police may open the vehicle’s closed compartments, such as the trunk or glove box. If the police make a lucky discovery of drugs or stolen property, they may attempt to validate the search under the “plain view” or “consent” exceptions to the search warrant requirement.

Our Macomb County criminal defense lawyers have been able to defeat improper searches if the consent was obtained by threats or coercion or if the traffic stop was random or pretextual. Our position in such situations is that if the initial intrusion is invalid; anything that is seized becomes inadmissible under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. The prosecuting attorney has the burden to establish the validity of the intrusion and the voluntariness of the consent by direct and positive evidence.

Video: How to Refuse a Police Search
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