The Michigan Court of Appeals in People v. Kavanaugh decided a great case for Fourth Amendment rights in Michigan.
What Happened in the Case?
The police pulled over Kavanaugh’s vehicle on I-96 on the west side of the state. The officer’s reason for pulling the vehicle over was a poorly fixed license plate and Kavanaugh’s failure to use a turn signal when making a lane change. Once pulled over, the officer asked Kavanaugh for consent to search the vehicle. Kavanaugh did not agree to the search.
Kavanaugh was then held while the officer got a drug-sniffing dog. You can guess the rest. The dog alerted the officer to a drug smell. A search of the car then revealed a good amount of marijuana.
Challenging the Case
Kavanaugh’s argument was that the officer’s reason for pulling over the vehicle ended once the officer dealt with the violations. A police officer can essentially pull a car over so long as the officer observes a civil infraction – even if that stop is really just a pretext to investigate potential criminal activity.
However, an officer may only detain a person long enough to deal with the infractions. An officer can only detain for longer if new facts arise to justify extending the detention of the person.
For example, an officer can pull someone over for speeding. The officer must write the speeding ticket and let the person go on their way. However, an officer who smells booze on the driver’s breath can continue holding the driver to determine if the driver may be under the influence. Once the officer has no reason to continue investigating anything, the person must be let go. Otherwise, the officer is in violation of the Constitution.
Kavanaugh argued the officer extended the detention past the time it should have gone, making his continued detention and unconstitutional seizure.
The Law from the Case
The Court agreed with Kavanaught that the stop of the car should have ended once the officer determined the extent of the traffic violations and dealt with them. The officer articulated no reason to continue holding Kavanaugh. The officer tried coming up with several reasons for suspicions but the Court of Appeals wasn’t buying it. (Whenever an officer asks for consent to search, this is a tip-off that the officer probably doesn’t have probable cause to search).
When the officer didn’t get consent to search the vehicle, he requested a dog be brought to the traffic stop and sniff the car. Kavanaugh waited 15 minutes for the dog to come. The officer had no legal ability or right to detain Kavanaugh for this time. There was no suspicion of criminal activity. Nothing Kavanaugh said would have lead a reasonable officer to believe there was criminal activity warranting further investigation. No new set of circumstances revealed themselves to justify holding Kavanaugh to allow the drug dog to arrive and to extend the stop.
Therefore, the Court concluded that Kavanaugh’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated, and the fruits of the vehicle search were suppressed. This case comes from the United States Supreme Court case called Rodriguez. This case was skillfully litigated and is an important Fourth Amendment rights case in Michigan.
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Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Attorney in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.