Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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Over 20,000 drug crime incidents each year in Michigan

Drugs are classified according to schedules in the Michigan Controlled Substance Act. The Controlled Substance Act labels the most dangerous and addictive drugs as Schedule 1 narcotics. Drug crimes and their corresponding penalties are also found in the Michigan Controlled Substance Act and the Michigan Penal Code. The penalties for drug crimes vary depending upon the drugs involved and whether the offender was involved in delivery, trafficking, manufacturing, possession or merely using drugs. Delivery and manufacturing Schedule 1 narcotics carry the greatest drug crime penalties. This publication is dedicated to the topic of drug crimes in Michigan and covers some of the most frequently asked legal questions with respect to drug crimes:

  • What are the penalties for a drug crime?
  • Can my drivers license be  suspended for a drug crime?
  • When can the police search my vehicle?
  • Can a case be dismissed if someone else is willing to take the rap in the court system?
  • Should I do undercover work (snitch/cooperate) if I am facing a drug crime?
  • Can I be charged with maintaining a drug house if I was in my car?
  • Do I lose my rights to possession a firearm if I am convicted of a felony drug crime
  • Do I lose my rights to Carry a Concealed Pistol (CPL) if I am convicted of a misdemeanor drug crime?
  • How does the law “7411” help me if I am charged with a drug crime?

Drug problems do not discriminate and we all know someone very close to us that has struggled with a drug problem. In our experience, the Macomb County Courts have long adopted a philosophy and culture to foster rehabilitation and not to punish someone for a drug crime. 

Throughout Michigan, there are over 20,000 criminal drug violations of the the Controlled Substance Act each year. This does include thousands of other incidents for theft crimes, gun crimes and violent crimes related to drug use and addiction. The Metro-Detroit region, consisting of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties has the highest number of drug crimes based upon Michigan State Police Statistics.  We base this article on our firm’s experience defending client’s charged with misdemeanor and felony drug crimes in the Macomb County District Courts:

If you are being charged or investigated for a drug crime, do not hesitate to contact an attorney that specializes in criminal law for guidance. Drug crimes are often management and and can be resolved with no jail and a dismissal of the original criminal charge(s). The most important things that the prosecutor and court will consider is whether someone is maintaining abstinence and involved in substance abuse treatment:

  • In-patient treatment
  • Outpatient treatment or an intensive outpatient program
  • Passing drug tests
  • Attending AA/NA meetings or other support group

More drug crimes involve prescription medications: MAPS allows law enforcement to track prescribed medications

Marijuana is legal for recreational purposes in the same way as alcoholic beverages and it is no longer a crime to possess or use marijuana. However, a high number of the drug crimes that we handle in the Macomb County Courts are for illegal possession of prescription medications. Unfortunately, various pain and psychotropic drugs can be obtained on the streets or very close to home. It is a felony for a person to possess a prescription medication that does not match up to a valid prescription. The excuse that your grandma left her prescription in your car will not work and you can face felony drug charges for having someone else’s prescribed medications in your possession.

Michigan has a system known as the Michigan Automated Prescription System (MAPS). MAPS is a prescription monitoring program used to track controlled substances, schedules 2-5 drugs. It is a tool used by prescribers and dispensers to assess patient risk and is also used to prevent drug abuse. The MAPS system is also widely used by law enforcement agencies.

Drug crime penalties: Use, Possession, Delivery, Possession with Intent to Deliver

Again, this publication is packed full of useful information regarding drug crimes .  First of all, the seriousness of a drug crime will depend upon its classification in the Controlled Substance Act. All drugs in Michigan are classified from Schedule 1 to Schedule 5 pursuant to MCL 333.7212 of the Michigan Public Health Code. The breakdown of drugs into schedules is based upon the drug’s potential for abuse/addiction. Schedule 1 drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamine, are considered the most dangerous/addictive/abusive and carry the harshest criminal penalties. In addition to drug classifications, Michigan laws breakdown drug crime penalties based upon the type of conduct associated with drugs. Activity that involves delivery/trafficking drugs carries bigger penalties than merely possessing or using drugs.

Penalties for Delivery or Possession with Intent to Deliver Drugs: The most serious drug crime criminal penalties are reserved for offenders convicted of delivery, or trafficking, drugs. All drugs crimes associated with delivery, or possession with intent to deliver,  are felonies.

Ecstasy/MDMA

Methamphetamine

Heroin

Cocaine

Oxycodone

Analogues, Adderall, Xanax

LSD

Psilocybin

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

 

Maximum Penalty

20 years, $25,000 fine

20 years, $25,000 fine

20 years, $25,000 fine

20 years, $25,000 fine

4 years, $25,000 fine

7 years, $10,000 fine

2 years, $2,000 fine

2 years, $2,000 fine

 

Just because someone is charged with a drug crime that contains the  element of “delivery” does not mean that they face jail or become a convicted felon. If you find yourself in this position, it is wise to contact a local criminal defense lawyer for guidance and a plan to fight the case and avoid a conviction for drug trafficking.

Penalties for Possession of Drugs (not involving delivery): Possession of illegal drugs can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor, depending upon the classification of the drug(s) involved.

Drug Crime

Possession Ecstasy

Possession Meth

Possession Heroin

Possession Cocaine

Possession Oxycodone

Possession Analogues

Possession LSD

Possession Psilocybin

Possession Parphernalia

Classification

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Felony

Misdemeanor

Misdemeanor

Misdemeanor

Maximum Penalty

10 years, $15,000 fine

10 years, $15,000 fine

4 years, $25,000 fine

4 years, $25,000 fine

4 years, $25,000 fine

2 years, $2,000 fine

1 year, $2,000 fine

1 year, $2,000 fine

1 year, $2,000 fine

Other drug crime links:

“Possession of drugs” link

“Analogue drugs” link

Other important drug crime provisions of law

A drug crime conviction will result in license suspension. An individual convicted of a felony drug crime will not be able to own or possess a firearm. However, there are special provisions of law that we can use to get drug crimes dismissed as we explain in more detail below.

  • Driver’s license suspension:  There are mandatory driver’s license sanctions imposed when a person is convicted of a drug crime. For a first time drug crime conviction, driver’s license suspension is for a period 180 days with possible restrictions after the first 30 days. A second time drug crime conviction will result in mandatory suspension for a period of 1 year with possible restrictions after serving the first 60 days with no driving. License sanctions do not apply when a drug crime is resolved pursuant to HYTA or MCL 333.7411.
  • Concealed Pistol License (CPL): A person convicted of a misdemeanor drug crime will not be able to apply for a CPL for a period of three (3) years. A person convicted of any felony, including all felony drug crimes, will not be able to own or possess a firearm pursuant to both State of Michigan and Federal laws.
  • Double penalty for second drug crime conviction:  A second drug crime conviction is subject to enhancement under MCL 333.7413 with the potential for double penalty as to incarceration and fines. This can lead to harsh consequences when a person is charged with a drug crime otherwise classified as a misdemeanor, such as possession of marijuana. A second possession of marijuana conviction would constitute a felony (2 years maximum sentence) if enhanced by the prosecutor pursuant to MCL 333.7413. In our experience as criminal and drug crime defense lawyers, the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office does not hesitate to utilize the double penalty provision when charging for repeat drug crimes.
  • MCL 333.7411: Disposition of a drug crime pursuant to MCL 333.7411 will result in a dismissal of the drug crimes for eligible first offenders. 7411 only applies to drug crimes that involve “possession” or “use“.  7411 does not apply to any drug crimes involving the activity of manufacturing or delivery. In addition, 7411 may be only used once in a person’s lifetime.
  • HYTA: Disposition of a drug crime pursuant to HYTA results in a dismissal of the drug crime with no public record of the proceedings. HYTA allows youthful offenders to get many types of criminal charges dismissed upon successfully completing probation.
  • Expungement: Almost every drug crime, except for the most serious, are eligible for expungement.

There is no need to get an expungement of a case that is resolved pursuant to MCL 3333.7411 or HYTA because there is no adjudication of guilty with these dynamic provisions of law.

Legal grounds to search a person or vehicle without a warrant

The police may not conduct a search without a valid search warrant or legal grounds to conduct a search without a warrant.  

Based upon Michigan laws, a search may occur without a warrant under these circumstances:

  • Plain view:  Objects found in plain view are subject to seizure without any further justification provided that the law enforcement officer has acted legally.
  • Consent:  The police do not need a warrant or probable cause to search a person or vehicle if they obtain the consent of the party.
  • Smell of drugs: The Michigan Supreme Court has held that the smell of something illegal is like plain view and have said “plain smell”, can justify a search of a car without a warrant.
  • Search incident to an arrest:  If criminal conduct is discovered following a traffic stop, such as a person driving on a suspended license, the police may conduct a search of the person and an inventory search of the vehicle incident to the arrest. (Driving on a suspended license (DWLS) is a crime, not a civil infraction.

YouTube Video, I Don’t Consent to Searches:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kVX6NIPzB0

Police don’t always play fairly and use plain view and/or consent to accomplish a search without a warrant.

We know the police often say that drugs or other illegal property is in plain view when it is actually well hidden and not in plain view. Seldom are there sufficient grounds to prove an illegal search unless there is a witness or video of the police misconduct. Consent searches are also an area of contention that sometimes demand a closer look especially when consent is obtained based upon coercion or threats. Some tactics used by the police to get a party’s consent:

  • Threat to obtain a search warrant.
  • Threat to get the K-9 dogs to sniff out the dope.
  • Claim by police that person or car smells like marijuana but want to obtain consent as a second means to validate a search.

HELP: I did not have drugs in my possession but the police charged me with possession!

In the eyes of the law, there is such a thing as being at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the police find marijuana or other illegal property in a vehicle, they may opt to charge only one party, or every party/occupant that can be said to be in “possession” or control of the property.

Actual possession:  A person caught red handed with marijuana hidden in his clothing (pocket, bra) is in actual possession and would have a hard time proving otherwise.

Constructive possession:  Constructive possession means a person had knowledge of the substance and an ability to control it. This differs from actual possession and would encompass situations where drugs are not found on a person but in an area within his control. For example, assume the police find marijuana or drugs in what we call a “common area” (under a passenger seat, ashtray or on the floor). In these scenarios, the police may charge every occupant with possession under the theory of “constructive possession”.

One person willing to take the blame:  In other drug cases that wind up in the system, we may have a single party that is willing to take the rap for others. Under the circumstances, the prosecutor can still argue joint possession or that the party taking the blame lacks credibility.

Should I do cooperate with the police/provide undercover work if I am facing drug charges or get a lawyer and go with the court option?

The police may offer leniency or some concession on the drug charges in exchange for cooperation, or what is commonly known as snitching. Undercover drug operations are dangerous and a favorable deal by the police is not assured. Furthermore, undercover activities are often done outside of the court system and without the protection of a lawyer.

The advice of an experienced criminal defense lawyer is crucial when confronted with this option. Engaging in undercover drug deals is not within the comfort zone of most of our Macomb County suburban clients. In fact, our clients have chosen the court option as opposed to snitching more than 90% of the time. In addition, clients have retained our firm following a frustrating episode of cooperation/snitching.

What does it mean if I am charged with maintaining a drug house?

The prosecutor can raise the stakes on mere drug possession charges by adding an additional serious criminal charge known as “maintaining a drug house” when a person:

Knowingly maintains a store, shop, warehouse, dwelling, building, vehicle, boat, aircraft, or other structure or place that is frequented by persons using controlled substances in violation of this article for the purpose of using controlled substances or that is used for keeping or selling controlled substances.

Maintaining a drug house is considered a high court misdemeanor in Michigan that punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years, or a fine of not more than $25,000.00, or both. For many purposes, it is viewed as a felony because the punishment consequence is greater than 1 year.

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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. An offer to cooperate can arise during a criminal investigation or following an arrest or at any stage of a criminal case.

The concept of “cooperation” with the police (also called “snitching” or “acting as an informant”) occurs when the police utilize an individual to obtain 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 is rarely advised of his or her rights and other options. The informant may later be required to testify as a witness in subsequent court proceedings unless given protection as a confidential informant (CI).

The use of informants by the government has existed for more than a 1,000 years and remains widely used today by the government and the police to:

  • Make other busts, raids, seizures,
  • Support an arrest or search warrant
  • Bolster connections to infiltrate criminal enterprise(s),
  • Flush out targets or bigger fish, and,
  • Make progress in an investigation that is stuck in the mud.

Getting into Something that is Over Your Head

As we explain in this publication, cooperation or snitching, is a tool used by law enforcement officers to combat criminal activity and is most often associated with drug crimes.  Cooperation with the police is seldom ever considered because drug crimes, especially for first offenders, can be resolved with excellent results in most cases without working with the police. In addition, you need the advice of an attorney to explain your legal rights and all of the possible risks associated with cooperation, including the following:

  • Your safety is not assured
  • Your assistance may be declared insufficient by the police
  • Criminal charges may still be pursued against you
  • Cooperation ends when the police say it ends
  • Cooperation may require engaging in bigger drug deals than justified under the circumstances to get a deal in the legal system

Cooperation (snitching) is usually arranged while the accused person is caught red handed while engaged in illegal activity or in police custody for a criminal offense. Unfortunately, the police may use these scenarios as opportunities to take advantage of the situation by threatening prosecution or by persuading the party with incentives to cooperate that include: immediate release from jail and consideration to get all criminal charges dropped. Upon being released from jail, the unwary person will be instructed to contact an undercover officer for further instructions and discouraged from contacting a criminal defense lawyer. An individual that immediately chooses this route is placing his or her trust with the same law enforcement officers that will be testifying for the prosecution should criminal charges later be pursued.

What the Police Won’t Tell You about Cooperation Can Hurt You

The police are not required to give legal advice or explain every other possible option when attempting to engage an individual to become an informant.  The police will not tell you that your case can be worked out without cooperation or that an attorney can fight the case if it is based upon an illegal search. Here are just a few other legal rights that you forego when you agree to cooperate with the police:

In addition to the above, the police won’t tell you that most drug crimes are manageable in the court system with the services of a criminal defense lawyer. Scare tactics are not uncommon as a means to harvest an informant who is lead to believe that there is no hope in the legal system without providing cooperation.  In fact, the majority of offenders are not looking at jail, may be eligible to get a felony reduced to a misdemeanor and have other excellent options to get the charge(s) dismissed pursuant to MCL 333.7411 or HYTA without providing any cooperation whatsoever to the police!

Cooperation in the Federal Court System

Federal criminal prosecutions are handled in a much more formal manner. In the Federal court system, the issue of cooperation is much different than what we see at the state court level. In the Federal system, special formalities and agreements exist. They involve both the District Attorney and at least one law enforcement agency; usually the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In the Federal arena, cooperation is prevalent and can be a factor to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence. The following language is contained within a Federal Plea and Cooperation Agreement:

“If the defendant commits any crimes or if any of the defendant’s statements or testimony prove to be knowingly false, misleading, or materially incomplete, or if the defendant otherwise violates this Plea and Cooperation Agreement in any way, the government will no longer be bound by its representations to the defendant concerning the limits on criminal prosecution and sentencing as set forth herein.”

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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]

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.  Whenever a search can occur without the element of probable cause, there is room for abuse by law enforcement. Plain view or consent searches can be made when probable cause does not exist and allow the police to avoid delays and formalities with the search warrant process. In addition, ” there are rarely any legal grounds to contest search based upon plain view or consent.

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.

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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