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Victory against unconstitutional search and seizures.

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Michael Komorn

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Komorn Law PLLC is proud to report another complete dismissal of all charges for our client. These past few months we have attained a high rate of dismissals of our client’s cases.

 

In this case our client was charged with allegations of felonious marihuana conduct; the case involved the definition of a medical marijuana plant in the law. More specifically, whether or not the plant was producing food from photosynthesis and was “living”.  Of course, the prosecutor wanted to fight about the definition of “usable marihuana” too. With a splash of Manual and Mansour mixed into the fray. 

 

Much to my surprise the Court was very familiar with the conflicts of law that currently exist within the MMMA and the court, and the issues that were created by the Mansour opinion. The court was prepared to grant a stay in the proceedings until that mess of an opinion gets worked out.

 

Today the Court heard arguments from the parties regarding the warrantless search of my clients home and whether the government could constitutionally validate the warrantless search. In Michigan, we have found that the courts go to great lengths to destroy the 4th amendment protections, going so far as to have a “good faith” exemption to unconstitutional search warrants.

 

 

As is often the case in warrantless searches regarding drug task forces investigating marijuana tips this case dealt with a “knock and talk". The knock and talk is a tool used by law enforcement agencies which allows them to traverse on to a citizen’s property, to question and even investigate a person or citizen. The knock and talk however is not absolute and there are specific limitations. The best way to describe is that the police would be allowed to come into a person's property in the same manner or method that a Girl Scout would or some other person soliciting something. Knock and talks are generally legal assuming that the police limit their interactions to the areas of the property that a citizen would not have an expectation of privacy.

 

Examples of this limited to walking up the driveway to the front door.

Nothing more nothing less.

 

There is some significant case law recent years in Michigan that lays out specific details of some of those limitations and also when an officers’ knock and talk goes too far. People v Frederick and Van Doorne is a case involving Kent County Sheriff's officers that baked marijuana butter. The case went to the Michigan Supreme Court, which describes those limitations and the proper analysis for when and how officers can conduct knocks and talks.

 

The court did not take issue with the police detectives/investigators in this case, ignoring the fact that they were not in police uniform when they did their knock and talk. The court ruled that it didn’t matter if the police were undercover, because that fact did not violate the knock and talk rules. Even though I disagreed with the court in this tiny issue, this was not the ultimate legal issue that was dispositive in this case. The legal issue that was dispositive in this case was that once the police officers, who were conducting a lawful knock and talk, and who were lawfully on the porch of my client's house, and were lawfully ringing the doorbell to interact with my client, with the intent of trying to establish probable cause to search possibly get a search warrant, it is what happened in that situation that was the ultimate dispositive issue to which the court ruled in our favor.

 

As we have been finding more and more, police agencies in Michigan have an additional tool to trick patients and caregivers from the immunities from arrest, prosecution, and penalty of any kind. Police make offers to do a “compliance check”. Police will ask very politely if the homeowner will show them around their medical marijuana garden to ensure compliance with the MMMA. This was the ultimate issue in this case.

 

As I mentioned this case involving search and seizure of evidence without a search warrant. The U.S. Constitution and the Michigan Constitution expressly prohibits the searching and seizures without a warrant. That in fact warrantless searches and seizures are per se invalid. The government must make an allegation to justify the warrantless search in order for the search warrant to be constitutionally valid.

 

In this particular case, the government's theory of why the search and seizure was constitutionally valid, was because according to them my client consented to the search of his house. Today the government in this matter argued my client consented to a search of his house, offering the testimony of the officers who said my client consented to search and therefore the government did need a search warrant. While this theory may be true in other circumstances, a warrantless search and seizure is justified if the homeowner consents to a search and seizure. However this was not the testimony that supported the charges, this is not the way in which testimony came out at the prelim exam during cross-examination. Had the testimony in the preliminary examination been that they requested consent of the homeowner/my client to search his house and asked if they could come into search the house for illegal contraband or whatever arguably that would've made for a constitutionally valid search and seizure.

 

As I argued today and in contrast to the states position I relied on the testimony at the prelim exam where I had locked the officers into admitting that they did not follow proper procedure, but upon encountering my client at the front door during the “lawful knock and talk”, that they indicated the reason to which they were there. That reason according to the officers was that there was a tip that they had received that there was an illegal marijuana grow that occurred was occurring at that location.

 

As I got the officer to admit that when you explain to my client the reason why you were there when you're doing your knock and talk that he responded by telling you that he was a medical marijuana patient and that there was no illegal substances within the house.

 

The officer answered yes.

 

I said then what did you say next that ultimately resulted in you gaining access to the house the officer said “well I told him that he needed to check whether or not he was in compliance with the Michigan medical marijuana act”. During this colloquy I said to the officer please explain to me, please direct me, please show me what is your legal authority for doing a compliance check of any individual regarding their medical marijuana behavior?

 

It is here at this juncture that the state’s case against my client fell apart. There is no legal authority for any drug task force team to do a medical marijuana compliance check. The specific section of the MMMA that prohibits this is section 333.26424G, possession of, or application for, a registry identification card shall not constitute probable cause or reasonable suspicion, nor shall it be used to support the search of a person or property of the person possessing or applying for the registered indication card, or otherwise subject the person or property of the person to inspection by local county or state government agencies.

 

At the hearing today it was this compliance check issue that was flushed out and ultimately the constitutional violation the resulted in the court holding that the consent to search was not valid. Because of that issue, the court found that the police did not constitutionally validate the warrantless search. The issue of consent to search has an abundance of jurisprudence both in Michigan and the federal court system. The concept of consent has been written about often, and raises various issues, charges, defenses etc. regarding police officers interactions with citizens. The States intrusions of citizens rights, or what would be described as unconstitutional, is of no consequence if the citizen, suspect or accused consents to that government behavior. 

 

However, consent must be unequivocal. It can’t be wishy washy and it can’t be based upon false or misleading information. Consent must be unequivocal and it must be given knowingly, voluntarily without threat or coercion. The capitulation to the government’s request can’t be based upon trickery or a lie. 

 

The circumstances of my client’s case today were about the consent, or shall i say consent that was not unequivocal or constitutionally valid.

 

I read from the transcripts from the preliminary exam ( quoting from the testimony of the officers) where the officers had testified that the last statement made to my client before entering his house was that they the investigator/ detectives needed to do a medical marihuana compliance check. These same officers admitted they were not part of the MMFLA task force or investigators ( and were not even sure that they were even aware of the existence of that agency). I pointed out to the judge that there exists no legal authority by these officers to do a compliance check. A compliance check is not the same as consent to search. By asking, suggesting even implying that they had this legal authority is obtaining consent by trick, by misrepresentation or whatever you may want to call it, it was not “ knowing, voluntary and or without duress” consent. 

 

It was this behavior by the government actors the Court found to be the constitutional violation. The court found that my client’s consent, which was allegedly obtained, was invalid, and the warrantless search of the residence and the seizing of the property and “evidence” was unconstitutional. Thus the evidence seized was done so illegally and the court suppressed the evidence and all the charges were dismissed. 

 

The lesson learned here, and the take away is simple. 

 

1.  Don’t be fooled into believing that there exists a legal authority for police officers or drug task force officers to check or determine you compliance with the MMMA 

 

2.  Never, Ever, Ever consent to a search. 

 

The often forgotten 4th amendment got some love today, and my joy is that this Court today had the courage and wisdom to make the correct ruling. 

 

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