Most people go through life without police contact. If you have police contact, usually this is as a result of a traffic stop. So, if this happens to you, what are the rules that govern police conduct?
Let us start with the example of a police officer stopping you for speeding. Let us also assume you were, in fact, speeding. There are no other traffic violations. You properly pull over and the police officer approaches your vehicle. He will typically ask for your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. You provide those documents to the officer. He will normally check your license to confirm you are, in fact, a licensed driver in Michigan. Assuming you have full driving privileges, the officer is either going to give you a citation for speeding or is going to let you drive off with a warning.
Remember, in Michigan speeding is a civil infraction. You cannot be arrested for speeding.
But what happens if the officer does not just give you a warning or a citation and rather starts asking you questions and looks through your windows into the passenger compartment of your vehicle? He still has your paperwork and your license. Clearly you are not free to leave. Now what?
Well, let us take a look at a case I recently had to see how this plays out in real life…
On June 23, 2020, a uniformed police officer stopped my client, K.S. The officer asked my client for his driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. My client gave those documents to the police officer. The police officer makes no effort to check those documents. So you are aware, K.S. has been to prison on prior drug and weapons charges. K.S. is off parole, but this particular police unit is aggressively surveilling my client as they suspect he is, again, selling controlled substances. The officer who stopped K.S. did not see any traffic violation, rather the officer claims another police officer saw my client and another vehicle fail to come to a complete stop.
If that were true, it is a civil infraction. In Michigan, the police officer who makes the stop must have observed, himself, the civil infraction.
So, the officer who made the stop did not see any violations. This is a problem. Secondly, an officer on a civil infraction is required to “detain the person temporarily for the purposes of making record of vehicle check, and prepare and subscribe, as soon as possible…a written citation…” MCL 257.742.
Instead of giving K.S. the citation and letting him go, the officer asks my client to step out of the vehicle and he complies. The officer then begins to pat K.S. down for weapons. Again, the stop is for a non-arrestable civil infraction, and Michigan law says write the ticket and let the driver go.
Not here. The officer pats K.S. down. He finds no weapons, but finds cash. Full stop. A pat down pursuant to Terry v Ohio, 392 US 1 (1968) is only for the discovery of weapons which might be used to harm the officer. Not cash. It is not illegal to carry cash.
The police officer wants to search the car, but K.S. will not consent to the search. As expected, the police go ahead and search the vehicle. The officer finds a handgun. My client is arrested and charged with four felonies. He is facing a minimum sentence under the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines of 6 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections.
On August 17, 2020, all charges against my client were dismissed at the end of a three hour hearing. I successfully argue the following:
- The stop was improper as the officer who made the stop did not see the violation;
- The officer violated state law by detaining my client longer than was necessary to write the citation. MCL 257.742;
- The officer violated Terry v Ohio in taking money from my client when he is limited to patting down for weapons; and
- The United States Supreme Court has ruled in Rodriguez v United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015) that the length of the traffic stop is only to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop.
Now, these types of stops happen everyday. Police use traffic stops to justify all types of detentions and searches. Their actions are unconstitutional. Full stop.
Too often I see defendants convicted based on civil infraction stops. These stops have to be fought. K.S. is free, not serving a minimum of 6 years in prison.
If you have a criminal case in Calhoun County, Lenawee County, Hillsdale County, Washtenaw County, Jackson County, or Ingham County, contact Mr. Brandt about your case.
The information on this website is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be taken as legal advice for an individual case. This information is not intended to form an attorney-client relationship.