Michigan Supreme Court Limits Police Ability to Search Passenger Property in Cars

The case of People v. Mead is an important case for Fourth Amendment rights in Michigan.

What Happened in the Case

Mead was a passenger in a car. He had just met the driver, who had offered him a ride. The police stopped the vehicle and ordered the driver and Mead out of the car. The driver consented to a search of the car. The police officer searched the car, including Mead’s backpack, which Mead had left on the passenger seat. The search of the backpack revealed methamphetamine, marijuana, pills, and a digital scale.

Mead was charged with possession of methamphetamine. He filed a motion to suppress the search. The motion was denied, and he later lost a jury trial. The judge sentenced him as a habitual offender to 2 to 10 years in prison.

The Law of the Case

Mead’s argument is that the police did not have the right to search his backpack. In general, a passenger in a car does not have the ability to challenge a search of the vehicle. However, this does not mean there are no situations in which a passenger might contest a search.

To argue against the search, a person mush establish that there was a legitimate Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy in the area searched. The expectation of privacy must be one that society recognizes. Courts must consider the totality of the circumstances to determine whether there was a legitimate expectation of privacy.

What Does This Mean for This Case?

The Court decided that Mead did have a reasonable expectation of privacy for his backpack. Importantly, the search was of Mead’s own property – his backpack. This is different from a typical situation in which a passenger, for example, had stashed drugs or a gun in the glove compartment or under the seat of a car he was riding in. So while a passenger in a car might not have an expectation of privacy in general, he could have an expectation for his personal property within the car.

But Didn’t the Driver Consent to the Search of the Car?

The driver here gave the officer permission to search the vehicle. Consent means an officer gets to search without a warrant. The distinguishing factor here is that the driver did not have the authority to permit the officer to search Mead’s backpack. Mead backpack was Mead’s property. The driver had just met Mead right before offering him a ride. It would be a stretch to say that situation gave the driver the ability to consent to a search the property of a person he just met.

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Call Sam Bernstein at 734.883.9584 or e-mail at bernstein@arborypsilaw.com.

Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Ann Arbor, MI.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

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