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Michigan Supreme Court Expands 4th Amendment Rights


Case: People v. Mead, Michigan Supreme Court ( Opinion )


Search & seizure; Search of a vehicle passenger’s backpack; U.S. Const. amend. IV; Const. 1963, art. 1, § 11; Standing; People v. LaBelle; People v. Slaughter; Expectation of privacy; Rakas v. Illinois; People v. Smith; Byrd v. United States; United States v. Welch (9th Cir.); Consent; Florida v. Jimeno; Schneckloth v. Bustamonte; Bumper v. North Carolina; Apparent common authority; Illinois v. Rodriguez; New York v. Belton; Arizona v. Gant; Effect of the fact a backpack is used to transport personal items (suggesting individual rather than common ownership); Utah v. Harding (UT)


The court overruled LaBelle, holding that defendant had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his backpack and that the warrantless search of the backpack violated the Fourth Amendment. Thus, it reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated the trial court order denying his motion to suppress, and remanded to the trial court. Defendant was a passenger in a car when the police pulled it over, ordered him out, and searched his backpack. The court overruled LaBelle, which had concluded that “[b]ecause the stop of the vehicle was legal, the defendant, a passenger, lacked standing to challenge the subsequent search of the vehicle.” In its place, the court reaffirmed that “a person—whether she is a passenger in a vehicle, or a pedestrian, or a homeowner, or a hotel guest—may challenge an alleged Fourth Amendment violation if she can show under the totality of the circumstances that she had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched and that her expectation of privacy was one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.” It held that defendant had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his backpack. This case differed from Rakas in one important way – defendant challenged “the search of a personal effect—his backpack.” And the record established that he “asserted a clear possessory interest in his backpack by clutching it in his lap.” Officer B believed that it belonged to him because of the way he was holding it. Although “defendant had no (and claimed no) legitimate expectation of privacy in the interior of [the driver, T’s] vehicle, he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his backpack that society is willing to recognize as reasonable.” The court next decided whether the search was lawful. What was in dispute was whether an objectively reasonable officer would conclude that T had apparent common authority over defendant’s backpack, and whether the backpack was within the scope of her consent to search the car. The court again broke with LaBelle. It instead reaffirmed that “an officer must obtain consent from someone with the actual or apparent authority to give it, . . . that the scope of any consent search is defined by the consenting party, and that ‘[t]he standard for measuring the scope of a suspect’s consent under the Fourth Amendment is that of “objective” reasonableness . . . .’” It held that because T did not have apparent common authority over the backpack, the search of it was not based on valid consent and was per se unreasonable absent another, applicable exception to the warrant requirement. The court agreed with “the Court of Appeals that none of the other exceptions to the warrant requirement has been satisfied.”

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