Unlawful Police Stop Leads to Evidence Suppression
Case: People v. Owen, Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
Search & seizure; U.S. Const. amend. IV; People v. Jones; Reasonableness; Ohio v. Robinette; Florida v. Royer; Terry v. Ohio; Traffic stop; Heien v. North Carolina; People v. Beuschlein; Navarette v. California; Motion to suppress; People v. Hrlic; People v. Cartwright; The exclusionary rule; Mapp v. Ohio; People v. Goldston; Absence of reasonable suspicion; People v. Dillon; Speed limits defined under the Motor Vehicle Code (MVC) (MCL 257.601 et seq.); MCL 257.627-.629; Principle that officers must act within the law; People v. Halveksz; Principle that officers should know the law governing their conduct; Harlow v. Fitzgerald; Whether the trial court properly reconsidered its ruling without first making a finding that palpable error existed; People v. Walters; Operating while visibly impaired (OWVI)
The court held that the circuit court erred by vacating the district court’s suppression and dismissal ruling because the totality of the circumstances established that the deputy lacked an articulable and reasonable basis for stopping defendant’s vehicle. His subjective mistaken belief that the speed limit was 25 mph lacked objective reasonableness. Thus, the stop was not lawful and violated defendant’s constitutional rights, requiring suppression of the evidence obtained by the stop. The deputy stopped defendant for allegedly driving 43 mph in a 25-mph zone. Defendant was convicted of OWVI and being a concealed pistol licensee in possession of a firearm while intoxicated. He argued that the deputy unlawfully stopped him “in violation of his constitutional rights and the circuit court incorrectly ruled that the deputy made a reasonable mistake of the law despite lacking an articulable and reasonable suspicion that defendant violated any law.” The court agreed. The speed limit on the road under MCL 257.628(1) was 55 mph. Thus, he was lawfully traveling on the road when he was stopped. “The deputy testified that he stopped defendant because he mistakenly believed that the speed limit” was 25 mph. The court had to determine “whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the deputy had an articulable and reasonable suspicion that a vehicle or one of its occupants was subject to seizure" for violating a law. While the deputy “was not required to be perfect, his mistake of law still had to be one of a reasonable law enforcement officer.” Even the deputy “admitted that an officer enforcing a speed limit should know the speed limit.” But the record showed he “failed to know the basic Michigan law provided under the [MVC], the very law he was tasked to enforce.” He did not make a reasonable mistake of law because the MVC since 2006 established the rule of law as to speed limits throughout Michigan – unposted roads were 55 mph. The court held “that the deputy did not have an objectively reasonable belief that probable cause existed to stop defendant because the totality of the circumstances established that he made an unreasonable mistake of law merely based on an unsupported hunch that the speed limit was 25 [mph] because other roads were posted elsewhere in the village with that” limit. Since nearly 10 years before the traffic stop, the MVC “repealed blanket village-wide speed limits. The circuit court erred because it essentially held that a law enforcement officer’s unreasonable ignorance of the law was equivalent to a reasonable mistake of the law.” Reversed and remanded.