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December 28, 2012

MSC Opinion: Police may deliver contraband firearms only to bailee, not designated agent, of convicted felon

In People v Minch, the Supreme Court found that, while a police department could appoint a bailee to possess a convicted felon's firearms, it could not lawfully deliver the contraband firearms to an agent designated by the felon. The defendant, who pled guilty to felony-firearm and possession of a short-barreled shotgun, wished to have the lawfully-owned weapons that were seized from his house delivered to his mother. The Court of Appeals held that refusing to turn over the guns to his mother would violate his due process rights. The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed.

Under Michigan's felon-in-possession statute, a convicted felon cannot possess firearms, either actually or constructively. When a felon's designated agent possesses firearms on the felon's behalf, the felon remains in constructive possession of the firearms in violation of the statute. However, the police department became a bailee of the weapons when they were seized and could lawfully appoint a successor bailee to assume possession. So long as a successor bailee was free from the felon's control, his possession of the felon's firearms would not violate the statute. Therefore, the police department could even turn the firearms over to the defendant's mother, who he had desired to appoint as his agent, if it was clear that the mother was acting as a bailee rather than an agent.

The Supreme Court expressly overruled the Court of Appeals' prior holding in Banks v Detroit Police Department, 183 Mich App 175, which held under similar facts that refusing to deliver a felon's firearms to his designated agent deprived him of his property interest without due process of law. The defendant was not deprived of due process when the police department possessed the firearms as a bailee because the defendant received adequate process when he pled guilty to the underlying felonies, and he was deprived only of his possessory interest rather than his ownership interest. A bailee is forbidden to interfere with the felon's ownership interest in the firearms and must return the firearms to the felon when he is lawfully entitled to regain possession. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' judgment and remanded to the circuit court.

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