The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizure. In addition to this federal protection, Michigan’s state Constitution enacted in 1963 also supports this right by specifically prohibiting the unreasonable search and seizure of houses, personal body or clothing, possessions, and papers of every individual. However, there are exceptions to search warrant requirements according to the law, and it is imperative that every individual understands these exceptions when faced with investigative and search activities directed toward their person and/or possessions.
If law enforcement has made a direct request to search you and/or your home, you are advised to obtain proper legal representation in order to protect your rights. Without experienced legal counsel, you may leave yourself vulnerable to a search to which you are not required to submit. Our skilled legal team at DeBruin Law can help you in these crucial situations.
The Meaning of ‘Search’ and ‘Seizure’ in Michigan
In the state of Michigan, “search” in the legal sense occurs when law enforcement searches your residence, body or clothing, business, vehicle, or other place or area with the goal of discovering evidence that points to illegal activity. In the majority of cases, any search conducted by police officers or other officials of the state must be backed by a search warrant, authorized by a judge or magistrate, and based on probable cause. These requirements are given by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
The legal meaning of “seizure” in the state of Michigan refers to law enforcement taking custody of a person. An example of this can occur when a police officer stops you for a brief period of time in order to evaluate a situation and determine whether or not you are involved in some type of illegal behavior. However, law enforcement cannot seize you for just any reason – they must have “reasonable suspicion” to believe you are engaged in suspected illegal activity.
A number of major exceptions to search warrant requirements exist and are as follows:
- Consent – Generally speaking, law enforcement is not legally permitted to enter your home, vehicle, or clothing without having a signed search warrant from a judge or magistrate. A common occurrence involving consent takes place when police officers arrive at someone’s home without a warrant and ask to enter. If you, as the homeowner or renter, allow the police to enter without a warrant, you are opening the door for the police to find potential evidence that could lead to criminal charges against you. Instead, in this type of situation, you are encouraged to assert your right to deny entrance to law enforcement. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution gives you this right to refuse a search without a warrant. One caveat to this scenario is that the police are not required to advise you of your rights to refuse search. Therefore, you must assert this right yourself and understand that you have every right to do so, regardless if the police tell you they will come back with a search warrant anyway. In fact, it is possible that a judge may deny a search warrant request to search your property.
- Plain View – The plain view exception to search warrant requirements involves the scenario of an officer witnessing or smelling something during the course of their duties that indicates illegal activity. One common example of this would involve the smelling of alcohol coming from the vehicle of a car the officer has pulled over for a traffic violation. In addition, an officer may happen to view someone through the window of the home attacking someone violently in that home. Or, the officer might view someone through the window of a car taking illegal drugs with a needle or some other obvious and common method used for administering narcotics. In these instances, the officer may have reasonable suspicion to investigate the situation further without requiring a warrant.
- Stop and Frisk – Police officers have the authority to stop suspects on the basis of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The evidence that leads an officer to this action must reach further than mere suspicion, but does not have to reach the level of probable cause. If there’s any reason for an officer to believe you are armed and dangerous, that officer can legally conduct a stop and frisk action upon your person.
- Searches Incident to Arrest – An additional exception referred to as a Search Incident to Arrest (SIA), involves the scenario in which the police have a right to search a restricted area around you for weapons or other individuals who may potentially threaten an officer’s safety. This type of search is based on the reasoning that it provides a protective measure to the police. There are limits to the scope of this search, and as such it is sometimes referred to by officers as a “wingspan” search.
Automobile Search Exceptions
Obviously, motor vehicles are mobile and can hide or whisk away potential criminal evidence before the police have an opportunity to obtain a search warrant and capture that evidence. Due to this capability, if law enforcement has probable cause to believe that a vehicle harbors evidence of criminal activity or any devices used in a crime, the fruits of a crime, or items such as contraband, law enforcement is not required to obtain a warrant to conduct a search of the vehicle. This automobile exception applies not only to road vehicles, but also boats.
Although this appears to provide a broad allowance for law enforcement to conduct searches, there are some limitations involved. For instance, the police are only permitted to search a vehicle in a manner consistent with the actual suspicion and probable cause at hand. For instance, if the police suspect the driver of a big rig of smuggling individuals across the border of the United States, the police may not necessarily be allowed to search certain personal possessions of the driver or others on board. However, if the search was for drugs, a multitude of areas could be legally searched in order to locate the suspected narcotics.
Exigent Circumstances as an Exception
One of the additional exceptions to search warrant requirements involve exigent circumstances. This pertains to a law enforcement official conducting a premises search while already present on the property for emergency reasons.
Some examples of this type of search include:
- When an officer is compelled to provide emergency assistance to one or more persons (for example, in the case of when someone has been stabbed or shot and requires medical attention), the officer may freely enter the residence or automobile/boat without a signed warrant.
- When an officer chases an individual who has committed a suspected crime, and that individual enters into a vehicle, building, or home in an attempt to flee, the officer may also enter the vehicle, building, or home without a signed warrant from a judge.
- When an officer is led to believe that evidence is being destroyed inside a home, building or vehicle, the officer may enter without a warrant.
Contact an Experienced Michigan Search and Seizure Attorney
If you are facing a search and seizure issue or believe you have been wrongly searched, attorney Tifany DeBruin at DeBruin Law will evaluate the facts of your case and provide you with vigorous advocacy and a strong defense in order to protect your rights.
Contact our team today at 517-324-4303 to set up a free case evaluation.