Contraband cases make up a good deal of the dockets in Michigan criminal courts. Drug cases, weapons cases, and other possession-oriented issues are all quite different from one another on most levels. In some other ways, they have a lot of similarities. Because of these similarities, experienced attorneys have developed some proven methods for dealing with these cases.
Even though the Fourth Amendment requires search warrants, few Genesee County criminal cases involve warrants. About the only exception is a lengthy drug investigation which often involves multiple defendants and several law enforcement agencies. The Constitution states that officers must have probable cause to obtain search warrants. Especially in drug investigations, that probable cause usually involves an informer’s tip.
There is no hard-and-fast rule for evaluating these tips. So, to determine their reliability, courts usually look at a number of factors, including:
The ends do not justify the means. If officers happen to stumble upon a drug cache at the corner of Main and Elm, their luck does not change the fact that the warrant was invalid.
For officers to seize contraband without a warrant, their search must be reasonable. Rather than go case-by-case, the Supreme Court has carved out a number of recognized exceptions. Searches that fall within one of these exceptions are reasonable as a matter of law. Some of the more common ones are:
Most exceptions have specific requirements. For example, to pat down a suspect in Flint, officers must have reasonable suspicion. For consent purposes, it must be reasonably apparent that the person is authorized to give such consent. A passenger cannot give consent to search a car.
Automobile cases offer a good illustration of the rules in this area. Usually, if an officer finds drugs in a car, the officer will arrest everyone in the car. Such dragnets usually do not hold up in court. Proximity alone is not enough to establish legal possession in criminal court. In addition to proximity, the prosecutor must also establish that the defendant knew about the contraband and had ready access to it.
Assume the defendant was a passenger in a pickup. At one point, the driver says “Don’t look in the locked box under your seat.” The defendant, who is no dummy, strongly suspects that there is something illegal in the box. But the defendant does not know that for sure. Furthermore, unless s/he had a key, the defendant could not open the box.
Possession cases have many intricate legal rules. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Flint, contact Nickola Law. We routinely handle matters in Genesee County and nearby jurisdictions.
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