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A Better Partnership
May 19, 2017

MSC: Trial court has discretion to hold evidentiary hearing to determine if search warrant affidavit is sufficient for probable cause

In People v Franklin, No. 152840, the Michigan Supreme Court held that a trial court may exercise its discretion and hold an evidentiary hearing to review the veracity of an affidavit on which a search warrant is based to determine whether the search warrant was supported by probable cause. Under Franks v Delaware, 438 US 154 (1978), a trial court must hold a hearing at a defendant's request whenever a defendant offers evidence sufficient to demonstrate a substantial preliminary showing that the affiant made a false statement—knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth—and the false statement was necessary to the finding of probable cause required to issue the warrant. However, in a unanimous opinion, the Court in Franklin determined that Franks merely governs when a trial court must hold an evidentiary hearing under the Fourth Amendment; however, even in the absence of a substantial preliminary showing under Franks, a trial court may hold an evidentiary hearing to review an affidavit supporting a search warrant to determine whether the warrant was supported by probable cause.
The circumstance underlying the issuance of a search warrant in Defendant Franklin's case served as the basis for the Court's opinion. In 2014, Police Officer Lynn Moore signed an affidavit in support of a search warrant for Defendant's house, alleging illegal drug activity. The affidavit was based on Officer Moore's own surveillance and information from a confidential informant. After reviewing the affidavit, the magistrate determined that there was probable cause to believe that Defendant's house contained illegal drugs. During the search of Defendant's home, police found a handgun and 350 grams of marijuana but did not find drug packaging equipment. Defendant was charged with possession with intent to deliver marijuana and other firearm-related crimes.
Before trial, Defendant moved for an evidentiary hearing under Franks in order to quash the search warrant and suppress the evidence. The Defendant took issue with the fact that Officer Moore based the affidavit supporting the warrant on information from an unregistered confidential informant. The court denied the motion to quash the search warrant but granted the motion to hold a Franks hearing. The prosecutor objected to the Franks hearing, contending that Defendant failed to make the requisite showing to merit the hearing. Following the hearing, the trial court granted Defendant's motion to suppress, finding the information in support of the affidavit was not credible because there was not evidence that the information from the confidential informant was based on personal knowledge. The trial court ultimately dismissed all charges against Defendant. The prosecution appealed.
The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering an evidentiary hearing when defendant had failed to make an adequate showing under the standard set forth in Franks—a substantial preliminary showing that a hearing was necessary. Defendant appealed and the Michigan Supreme Court heard oral argument on Defendant's application for leave to appeal.
The Court held that Franks v Delaware provides the circumstances under which an evidentiary hearing regarding a search warrant supported by an affidavit must be held pursuant to the Defendant's rights under the Fourth Amendment. However, Franks does not govern when such an evidentiary hearing may be held or limit the trial court's discretion to hold a hearing. Because nothing in the federal Constitution or federal law prohibits a trial court's general discretion regarding motion practice and evidentiary hearings, a trial court may hold an evidentiary hearing to review the veracity of an affidavit in order to determine whether a search warrant was supported by probable cause. The decision to hold such a hearing is reviewed for abuse of discretion. In this case, the Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by granting defendant's motion for a hearing. Further, the prosecution did not challenge the trial court's ruling that the warrant was not supported by probable cause. Thus, the Court reinstated the trial court's order dismissing the charges against Defendant.

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