Articles Posted in Criminal Procedure

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Michigan’s clean slate law makes it possible to get a fresh start and wipe out several prior convictions including one offense for driving under the influence or impaired.

Summary of Michigan’s Clean Slate Law

Michigan’s expungement law has been broadened to allow for more offenses to be expunged on an individual’s criminal record than at any other time in history. MCL 780.621 contains the provisions of Michigan’s expungement law. The following is a summary of this law:

  • Individuals will be able to get up to 2 felonies and 4 misdemeanors automatically cleared. Crimes punishable by more than 10 years in prison, violent crimes, “crimes of dishonesty” such as forgery, human trafficking and other serious crimes that carry a sentence of life in prison, domestic violence, traffic offenses where someone was seriously injured or died, child abuse, sexual assault, and operating while intoxicated aren’t eligible.
  • Allows misdemeanors to be automatically expunged after 3 years, felonies after 7 years, and serious misdemeanors or a single felony to 5 years, shortening the waiting time to apply for expungement.
  • Up to 3 felonies and an unlimited number of misdemeanors may be expunged, but no more than 2 assaultive crimes and no more than 1 felony if it’s punishable by more than 10 years in prison.
  • Allows felonies or misdemeanors from the same 24-hour period — to be treated as one conviction for expungement. Assaultive crimes, crimes involving a dangerous weapon and crimes punishable by 10 or more years in person can’t be included.
  • Effective February 19, 2022, a first and only offense for driving under the influence, impaired or with a High BAC (.17 or more) may be expunged!
  • Allows those with marijuana misdemeanor convictions to apply for expungement if their offenses would have been legal for recreational use if the crime occurred after cannabis was legalized in 2018.
  • Allows a conviction for 4th Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct that occurred before January 12, 2015 to be expunged if the individual has not been convicted of another offense other than 2 minor offenses.
  • Minor offenses are a misdemeanor or ordinance violation with a maximum term of imprisonment of 90 days or less.

The Clean Slate Law makes Michigan a nationwide leader in expungement reform. To date, only Utah, California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey allow low-level offenses to be automatically cleared from records, and Michigan will now be the first to include low-level felonies in the automatic process. For thousands of Michiganders, this is an opportunity for a better life. Michigan’s Clean Slate Law creates a more just, equitable, and inclusive expungement process.

Expungement of Drunk and Impaired Driving

Effective in February 2022, an individual will be able to get 1 lifetime offense for driving under the influence expunged. Eligibility to expunge an OWI won’t come easy. First of all, the individual can have one offense expunged if that individual has only one DUI offense on his or her record. The DUI expungement law will allow for expungement of any 1 of the following offenses:

  • Operating While Intoxicated
  • Operating Under the Influence of Drugs
  • Operating While Impaired
  • Operating with a High BAC .17 or greater
  • Zero tolerance/minor with any BAC

Operating under the influence causing an injury or death are not eligible for expungement. One of the rules for anyone seeking to expunge an DUI will require the applicant to prove that he or she has resolved any underlying alcohol or substance abuse problem. This may require getting a current substance abuse evaluation and other documentation of sobriety.

The Expungement Process in Michigan

Expungement proceedings are complex and doing it yourself can be a daunting undertaking. If you fail to notify required parties (Attorney General, prosecutor, Michigan State Police) or fail to obtain a record clearance , the case will be dismissed. There are several required involved when it comes to getting an expungement. The proceeding for expungement has The DUI expungement Michigan process is very rigorous and time-consuming.

While every case varies, our format for successfully setting aside and expunging convictions typically involves the following steps:

  • Preparation of all documents.
  • Obtaining a certified copy of your conviction.
  • Correctly filing documents with the court.
  • Obtaining supporting documentation and character letters when necessary/
  • Notifying all parties including the prosecutor and Michigan Attorney General.
  • Submission of fingerprints to the Michigan State Police for a record clearance.
  • Scheduling the required court hearing.
  • Preparing our client for the hearing.
  • Appearing at the hearing.
  • Providing an Order to Set Aside Conviction.

Do I have to say I was convicted of a crime after it is expunged?

Once you are granted an expungement of a crime, you are not required to ever list it on a job application or mention it in an interview. In fact, if you are asked, you can say:

I DO NOT HAVE ANY CRIMINAL RECORD. 

How to Obtain a Copy of Your Record

The Michigan State Police maintains a central registry of criminal records in a system known as the Law Enforcement Information Network. Access to LEIN is restricted to criminal justice agencies or those agencies statutorily granted authorization. However, an individual can obtain of his or her own criminal record by following the instructions on the Michigan State Police ICHAT link: http://apps.michigan.gov.

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George-Floyd
Imaginary lines in space decide many of the rights and obligations of American life. These boundary lines have tremendous effects on our sense of self and to whom we feel connected. Far more than just emotional and psychological consequences flow from where we live and how we identify. (Read Democratic Education and Local School Governance.) In America, geography and identity determine one’s legal power and opportunity.

3 recently recorded incidents of unarmed black men being ridiculed or killed in America have surfaced online and sent communities across both coasts pleading for justice.  The unfortunate stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Christian Cooper, and George Floyd during COVID provides powerful tools for Americans to reflect on our interconnectedness with fellow Americans from different backgrounds and geography.

The United States of America, a democracy founded on the equal dignity of every citizen[1]  rejects an ancient view that legal power and opportunity hinges upon accidents like parentage or geography. This is due to the fact that deeply rooted in American heritage and values is our core belief in the American Dream, a happy way of living that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. by working hard.[2]

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What does it mean to provide cooperation, snitch or be an informant for the police?

Cooperation, using the little fish to get the big fish, is a major law enforcement tactic utilized everywhere and every day in the United States to gain information that would otherwise be next to impossible to obtain. This practice is also used extensively in the County of Macomb as a means to frustrate illegal drug activity.

The concept of “cooperation” with the police (also called “snitching” or “acting as an informant”) occurs when the police utilize an informant to obtain the information that would otherwise be difficult to discover.  Those asked to provide cooperation are usually in trouble with the law (busted for a drug crime) and are promised consideration in the legal system in return for providing assistance. Assistance is expected to be substantial and typically involves undercover work with narcotics agents or special units.  The informant may later be required to testify as a witness in subsequent court proceedings unless given protection as a confidential informant (CI).

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.

Court-Gavel.jpg What is a plea bargain?

Simply stated, a plea is where a finding of guilt is made through an admission rather than by a judge or jury. Usually this means that in exchange for dismissed charges, reduced charges, a deferral, or for an offer of leniency the defendant explains the crime that they committed to the judge. When a plea is made the defendant gives up his or her right to have a trial and all the rights they would have at trial. This expedites the criminal justice process because it skips the trial portion and the case is fast-tracked for sentencing after the defendant admits to the charged conduct. It is a ‘bargain’ because the defendant must compromise by dispensing with his or her trial rights in exchange for a deal of some sort.

Why do plea bargains exist?

Plea bargains are commonplace in the United States and many would argue are necessary for the smooth operation of our justice system. Some 90% of cases are worked out through plea bargains. In addition to (most the time) benefiting defendants, they benefit the court and prosecution because trials are also costly and arduous for them. With most courts having full dockets, the system would come to a crawl if each case was resolved with a lengthy trial.

What are the most common types of plea bargains?

The most common type of plea arrangements are charge bargains, sentence bargains, sentence recommendations, and what is called a ‘Cobbs plea.’ A charge bargain, which is totally within the discretion of the prosecutor, is a bargain whereby a plea deal is offered in exchange for reduced or dismissed charges . Another type of plea is a sentence agreement. This is where the prosecutor conditions the plea on a term of sentence (for example the prosecutor may recommend a statute that keeps the charge off the defendant’s record). In this type of plea the defendant retains the right to withdraw his plea if the judge does not abide by the prosecutor’s agreement. Along the same vein are sentence recommendations. As we always explain to clients, recommendations are not binding on the judge. However, experience tells us that a judge will more likely than not go along with a prosecutor’s endorsement. Lastly, there are ‘Cobbs pleas’, given their name after the case People v. Cobbs. This is a bargained for sentence with the judge, if the judge exceeds that preliminarily agreed upon sentence the plea may be withdrawn.

What helps for negotiating a favorable plea deal?

Many factors play into negotiating a favorable plea deal. Oftentimes considerations include the defendant’s criminal history, personal background, and the prosecution’s evidence. A clean or limited criminal record always helps at the negotiating table. Similarly, factors such as steady employment, education, and a positive family background tend to be viewed as a encouraging. In terms of the case’s facts, presenting scant evidence of a crime or its elements to the prosecutor can also help in working an advantageous plea.

Doesn’t a plea mean the crime will go on my record?

We get this question a lot – the answer is not necessarily. Frequently, the entire purpose of taking a plea deal is because it is conditioned on some type of deferral (or a deal whereby the charge will be removed from the client’s record). These deferrals are discussed at length on our blog and website. For purposes of this blog it is sufficient to know the common deferrals are available for youthful offenders, domestic violence cases, drug cases, and MIPs . There is also a general deferral under the delayed sentence statute.
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In this concluding portion of our series, we will discuss illegal searches as they relate to an individual’s home. The following will serve as a paradigm for exploring police searches of the home;

Were the police allowed to enter the home?
Were the police allowed to search the home?
What was the scope of the permissible search within the hom
e?

The 4th Amendment provides the most safeguards to people in their homes. This stems from colonial America and is one of the foundational principles of the Bill of Rights. The 4th Amendment is premised on the idea that the home is one’s castle and the government cannot enter it unless there is good reason to do so. Searches of the home can be separated into two categories, searches with and without warrants. A search absent a warrant is presumptively unreasonable. Without a warrant, police can only search somebody’s home if there is exception to the warrant rule. However, this is one the situations in law where it is said the exception swallows the rule.

Searches WITH Warrants

This post will discuss two types of warrants, search warrants and arrest warrants. Arrest warrants will be discussed more as an exception to the warrant rule. A search warrant must be based on probable cause. Probable cause is presented via affidavit which must be signed by a judge or magistrate. Warrants can be defective on the grounds they are ‘stale‘, or based on old information. They can further be defective on the grounds of scope and specificity. There needs to be some guidance as to what can be seized in order to limit officers’ discretion. However, it can sometimes be difficult to challenge warrants because of the “good faith exception”, often preventing the suppression of evidence where an improper warrant was relied on in good faith.

Searches WITHOUT Warrants
The major recognized exceptions to the warrant requirements are;

1) Consent (standing),
2) Exigent circumstances,
3) Emergency aid,
4) Search incident to arrest,
5) And plain view.

The police may enter a home where there is consent that is freely given. However, from a legal standpoint one must have standing (or the authority) to give consent. Somebody must be more than just a temporary guest in order to give the police permission to search somebody’s home (an overnight guest, however, is sufficient). Where there is an immediate and pressing interest in preserving evidence, protecting police/the public, or preventing a suspect from escaping police can enter a home under the ‘exigent circumstances‘ doctrine. Where there is a reasonable belief that somebody is in need of medical attention police may enter a dwelling. However, police must have more than ‘speculation that someone inside side may have been injured’ in order to justify a warrantless intrusion under this doctrine. As stated above, where an arrest warrant has issued police may enter a home to effectuate that arrest without a separate warrant. This does not allow the police to enter a third party’s home and further they will be limited to only conducting a protective sweep within the home. Where a police officer is positioned somewhere he/she is legally allowed to be and can see evidence of a crime that officer can seize the item. The example that is often given is where police sees evidence of a crime through a window, absent an exception, they must still obtain a warrant to enter the home.
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hot pursuit.jpgIn the second part of our 3 part series on searches, this blog will discuss the rules governing automobile searches. The following needs to be considered when a motorist is pulled over and subsequently searched;

Was the stop a traffic stop or a stop based on suspicion of criminal activity?
Was any search justified?
Was the scope of the search justified?

As alluded to in our prior post, being in an automobile affords individuals much less 4th Amendment protection than being in their home. Police can search a car without a warrant under the ‘automobile exception’. Such searches must be supported by probable cause. According to case law, the general population doesn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy within their automobile because it is operated upon public roadways and is highly regulated by the government. Thus, automobiles upon public roadways are subject to a much lower expectation of privacy than a private home – other drivers, and police officers, can see directly into the majority of traveling cars. It should also be noted warrantless searches may be conducted pursuant to a valid inventory search after the seizure of an automobile.

Police can stop a motorist either for violation of the motor vehicle code or based on the hunch of criminal activity. Where the officer actually observes a traffic violation they are allowed to make a stop. However, it is often a traffic stop that allows the police to make an arrest for a more serious crime. The police can run a background check during a traffic stop, if that check shows outstanding warrants the police may then arrest that individual and search their vehicle. Moreover, the police do not need a warrant in order to run a license check of a vehicle.

Police may expand the scope from a brief detention to issue a traffic ticket where there is a fair probability of contraband/evidence in the vehicle based on the totality of the circumstances. If a law enforcement official see’s, say for example a bloodied weapon, in plain sight during a traffic stop they may immediately seize that weapon. Another scenario, one that regularly plays out in this office, is where an officer smells alcohol or marijuana during a traffic stop. The smell of marijuana justifies a search of the motor vehicle. Similarly the odor of intoxicants allows the police to conduct roadside sobriety tests.

Where there is no traffic violation, law enforcement may make an investigative stop where they believe criminal activity is taking place. Where there is probable cause that a crime is being committed police may stop an automobile without a warrant (for example where a car is described as leaving the scene of a recently committed crime). Probable cause can be premised on as little as an anonymous tip. Depending what the probable cause is for (meaning a stolen vehicle versus a bag of drugs) will dictate the initial scope of the permissible search. Practically speaking, the police will likely find a way to search the entire car through one of the warrant exceptions. Further, probable cause will typically give pretty wide latitude in terms of what portions of the car can be searched absent a warrant. Police can, for example, open a container if they have reason to believe there is evidence of a crime in that container. However, the search needs to be somewhat logical. That’s to say that police likely do not have the authority to search a purse if they stop an automobile under suspicion that it’s harboring illegal immigrants.

Beneath is some case law regarding automobile searches.

– The police may not search an automobile if the stop was solely for the purpose of seeing the motorist’s license.
– The police may search a car incident to a custodial arrest.
– The police may not search a car where a ticket is issued for a traffic offense provided that’s the reason the car was stopped.
– Police may search a car made at the end of a hot pursuit of a crime scene.
– Police may search a car believed to be stolen.
– The police may allow a dog to sniff an automobile during a legitimate traffic stop.
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Oftentimes clients ask the following questions;

When the police searched me, was their search valid?
Were the police allowed to search me?
Did the police have the authority to search me?

Answer: It depends, this three part blog series will explore what types of searches are and are not valid.

The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that no one should be subjected to an unreasonable search. Michigan’s standard for searches is not higher than that of the Federal Government.

The general rule is that a search without a valid warrant is unreasonable. Where there is no warrant it must be demonstrated that there was both probable cause and a valid exception.

Beneath are the recognized scenarios where law enforcement may conduct a warrantless search;

1) When incident to a lawful arrest,
2) Under the “plain view doctrine”,
3) Based on voluntary consent,
4) Pursuant to a custodial inventory search,
5) Pursuant to statute,
6) When presented with exigent circumstances,
7) Automobile searches,
8) And stop and frisk searches.

The Constitution affords the most protection to homes. Much less protection is extended to motorists and individuals. This post is devoted to what is required to search an individual without a warrant.

Terry Stops

Pursuant to the Terry v Ohio U.S. Supreme Court decision, a police officer has the authority to stop a suspect when he/she has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring. Basically, the officer must be able to describe the situation and explain his actions based upon his experience as a police officer. This pertains only to whether or not an officer can stop an individual who is walking down the street.

Whether or not the officer can search the individual is dependent upon the circumstances of the encounter. Although the person has been stopped based upon the officer’s reasonable suspicion, the officer is limited in how he/she can search the individual’s person. When the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person is armed and presently dangerous or is engaging in criminal conduct, they are entitled to search the individual. The frisk, as it’s known, is limited to a search for weapons by patting down only the outer clothing of the person. During this search if an item is immediately recognized as contraband it may be seized pursuant to the “plain feel” exception. However, an officer cannot, for example, manipulate an objected suspected to be contraband through the clothes or remove that object in order to determine that it is indeed contraband.

Both the search and the stop must be reasonable. This is determined through an objective test, which means that if the behavior meets a certain threshold, it’s reasonable. If not, the police behavior is unreasonable.

Courts have held the following –

1) It is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment for a cop to stop and question an individual on the street.
2) While a person’s mere presence in a high crime area may not be enough to warrant a frisk, running from such an area is.
3) An officer’s personal observation of criminal activity is not needed to form reasonable suspicion, it can be based on third party information.
4) Police officers cannot manipulate someone’s carry-on luggage in order to determine its contents, whereas a canine sniff (properly limited in scope) is not a “search” as defined by law.
5) Police may question persons on public transportation.
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