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June 08, 2017

COA: Discovery of valid arrest warrant following illegal search/seizure does not cure constitutional violation

The discovery of a valid arrest warrant after an invalid arrest was insufficient to cure a subsequent Fourth Amendment violation. In People v Maggit, No. 335651, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that an officer’s unreasonable mistake in concluding sufficient probable cause existed to execute an arrest—which led to a search revealing contraband evidence—invalidated the arrest and required exclusion of the tainted evidence even though a valid arrest warrant was later discovered.   

In Maggit, a Grand Rapids police officer observed the defendant and another man seemingly trespass and stand next to each other for a brief period of time in a parking lot known for drug sales. Although the officer’s position only allowed him to see that the men were standing next to each, the officer suspected a narcotics exchange took place. When the men left the lot, the officer attempted to stop them for trespassing, but the defendant took off running. The officer’s backups took chase and apprehended the defendant. A search revealed bags of an unknown substance that tested negative for any controlled substances. After the officers arrested and seized the defendant, they discovered a valid, outstanding arrest warrant. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence and the trial court granted it, determining that the seizure of the defendant was unlawful and the exclusionary rule applied to the seized evidence.

The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed. First, the Court weighed whether there was probable cause to arrest the defendant for trespassing in the parking lot under the applicable Grand Rapids’ city ordinance (Grand Rapids Ordinance, § 9.133(1)), which prohibits remaining on land to the annoyance or disturbance of the lawful occupants. Here, the men were on property open to the public for a very brief period of time during business hours, and there was no indication the defendant was ever told to leave. Thus, the Court held that there was no probable cause to believe the defendant trespassed.

Second, the Court held that the Fourth Amendment violation could not be excused as a reasonable mistake of law on the part of the officer. The Prosecution argued that the officer made a reasonable mistake in believing that the defendant had trespassed under the ordinance.  But the Court disagreed, finding that the ordinance was not ambiguous, and thus any mistake as to its application was unreasonable.

Third, the Court considered whether the exclusionary rule should bar the use of the unlawfully seized evidence at trial as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” This required applying a three-factor test set forth by the United State Supreme Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals to determine whether the link between the unconstitutional search and the evidence recovered was too attenuated to justify suppression.

The three factor test requires a court to look at:
(1) the temporal proximity between the unconstitutional conduct and the discovery of evidence to determine how closely the discovery of evidence followed the unconstitutional search;
(2) the presence of intervening circumstances; and
(3) the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct.

In evaluating these factors, the Court found that all three favored suppression of the evidence. First, the time between the illegal detention and the discovery of the evidence was relatively short. Second, the discovery of the valid warrant for the defendant’s arrest was not an intervening act that broke the casual chain between the initial, unlawful detention and the discovery of the evidence because the warrant was an after-the-fact discovery and had no effect on the actions taken by the police or the evidence found on the defendant. Third, although the police did not act with ill will and were attempting to remedy a real trespassing problem, the Court decided that it was unreasonable for the officer to effectuate an arrest for simply walking into a parking lot open to the public.

The Court concluded that the attenuation doctrine should not apply and affirmed the trial court’s decision to suppress the evidence.
 

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