Vehicle Passengers Can Now Challenge Searches Of Their Personal Property

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled back in 2007 in the case of People v. Labelle that passengers riding in a vehicle did not have the ability or standing to challenge a police search of their personal property within that vehicle. Since 2007, this has been the rule that Michigan Courts have routinely followed. The Supreme Court back then ruled that a passenger in a vehicle did not have any expectation of privacy while riding in someone else’s vehicle. That has now all changed due to the case of People v. Mead. As of April of this past year, passengers riding in a vehicle may now challenge a search under the Fourth Amendment.

In the Mead case, the defendant Larry Mead was a passenger in the car of a woman he had met earlier that day. The vehicle was stopped by police due to an expired license plate. The police officer in this case noticed Mead sitting in the backseat holding onto a backpack sitting in his lap. The officer asked the driver to step out of the vehicle and asked her if he could search the vehicle. Once both Mead and the driver were outside the vehicle, the officer then searched the vehicle, including Mead’s backpack. Upon searching Mead’s backpack, the officer found about 10 grams of methamphetamine, marijuana (now legal), prescription pills and a digital scale.

Mead pushed his case to trial, and during the trial process his attorney objected to the search as being illegal and without consent. The trial court ruled against his attorney stating that Mead did not have any reasonable expectation of privacy for his backpack as a passenger of the car under the legal standard in Labelle. Mead was ultimately convicted at trial and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. On appeal the Michigan Supreme Court overturned this decision and Labelle stating that, “a passenger’s personal property is not subsumed by the vehicle that carries it for Fourth Amendment purposes.” What this is basically saying is that you will retain your Fourth Amendment right against an illegal government search of your person or property even as a passenger in a vehicle. The court stated this pretty bluntly by saying that “a person can get in a car without leaving his Fourth Amendment rights at the curb.” In this case the Supreme Court stated that there was no reason for the officer to believe that the backpack in the backseat had any connection to the driver of the vehicle and noted that it was apparent that the backpack belonged to Mead who was sitting in the backseat as stated earlier.

The driver consented to the search of her vehicle but since she did not have the apparent authority to consent to a search of the backpack, the backpack would be excluded from the consent to search the vehicle itself as being outside the scope of the consent to search. Basically stated, the driver cannot consent to the search of something that isn’t theirs or something that they have no apparent control over. As such, the Michigan Supreme Court found the search to be illegal and suppressed the evidence as “fruit of the poisonous tree” and dismissed the case.

How does this affect me in my daily life?

The Supreme Court noted this situation similar to a ride-share passenger using a company like Uber as an example. If you are a passenger in an Uber or similar ride-sharing service, you now have the ability to refuse a search of your person or property in the event that driver is pulled over and searched by the police. As ride sharing has exploded in popularity in recent years this ruling is sure to have a strong presence in Michigan Courts going forward. If you are facing a criminal charge due to a search of a vehicle while being a passenger, you may have the ability to fight your case due to the recent decision in Mead. It is imperative to have an attorney properly raise this defense for you as the court will not just dismiss a charge or even examine the issue without a proper motion filed on your behalf. The attorneys at Grabel & associates have over 100 years of combined experience which also includes in-depth research, issue-focused writing, and the latest in defense techniques related to criminal law. We are not a general practice firm. We lead the fight for justice from the front, and we do it be specifically focusing on the area of criminal defense. It’s all we do, and we do it best.

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