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Case Summary - Police May Approach a Parked Vehicle without Violating the 4th Amendment

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People v Anthony

Michigan Court of Appeals, Docket No. 337793
For Publication - January 22, 2019

Facts: Police officers approached Mr. Anthony's vehicle, claiming that it was parked in the middle of the street, thus impeding traffic. A police officer claimed to smell "a strong odor of burned marijuana". Officers then removed and handcuffed two men who were in the vehicle and searched the vehicle. During the search, they found a .45 caliber pistol. As a result, Mr. Anthony was charged with several firearms charges.

At an evidentiary hearing, the trial court determined that the vehicle was lawfully parked by the side of the road and the police had violated the 4th Amendment by approaching and ultimately searching the vehicle.

Holding: The Court of Appeals held there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of a legally parked vehicle. According to the court, "Pulling up alongside the [vehicle] did not, without more, constitute a "traffic stop" because [it] was parked and thus not moving." (slip op at 6). The court also concluded that, because the police did not block the egress of the vehicle, a reasonable person would have understood that he was free to leave. (slip op at 8). Thus, according to the court, no seizure occurred until police officers had already established probable cause to search the vehicle, as supported by the officer's claim that he smelled burned marijuana (the accuracy of this claim was a point of contention between the majority and the dissent, but the majority insisted that the trial court record supported the claim). Because no seizure occurred until after probable cause was established, both the seizure and the search were permissible. Therefore, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and reinstated the charges against Mr. Anthony.

Analysis: When being approached by police, it is important to determine whether you are actually being detained. If you are merely approached by police, generally, you are free to leave. If you choose to stick around, and an officer observes what he or she believes to be illegal, you may be subjecting yourself to additional search or arrest. By the same token, if the officer has detained you and you choose to leave, you may subject yourself to criminal charges. It is an incredibly fine line, but making the wrong choice can result in legal difficulties.

If you have been arrested following a potentially illegal search of your person or your vehicle, please contact us or check out our criminal defense page.

If you are a criminal defense attorney and you believe that a trial court has allowed unlawfully collected evidence to deprive your client of a fair trial, please check out our attorney referrals page and consider referring them to us for their appeal.

Judge Gleicher filed a dissenting opinion in which she pointed out the the unbelievability of the arresting officer's account. 

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