Mel Welch used his extensive knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and case law to earn a hard fought dismissal when the odds were stacked against him. He once again proved that evidence needs to be collected legally in order to be admissible in the court of law.
The case in question involved a client who was suspected of possessing and selling drugs. Police officers had legally obtained a search warrant of our client’s premise, and they set up a perimeter around his home to aid in the search. Unmarked officers positioned themselves in front of our client’s house, while a regular patrol car was parked out of sight on a side street to help in the event the suspect fled and to keep watch on the neighborhood activities while the search was executed.
Before the officers could complete the search, our client left his home and got into a van parked nearby. Shortly thereafter, our client exited the van and got into his own vehicle. He then drove away, and the marked squad car followed.
Michigan v. Summers
Before we go any further, now seems like a good place to explain the court case Michigan v. Summers, and its relation to Bailey v. U.S. In the case of Bailey v. U.S., which discussed the protections guaranteed in the 4th amendment, the judge ruled that “some seizures admittedly covered by the Fourth Amendment constitute such limited intrusions on the personal security of those detained and are justified by such substantial law enforcement interests that they may be made on less than probable cause, so long as police have an articulable basis for suspecting criminal activity.”
In other words, the court ruled that some searches are legal even if the officers don’t have probable cause to execute the search, so long as it meets certain conditions. Those conditions were made expressly clear in the case Michigan v. Summers, which established three factors that, if present, could provide an exception to the probable cause requirement. They are:
1. Law enforcement’s interest in preventing flight in the event incriminating evidence is found.
2. Interest in minimizing the risk of harm to the officers.
3. To facilitate the orderly completion of the search.
Remember these three exceptions to the probable cause requirement. They’ll come in handy in just a bit.
Back to the story. Our client got in his car and drove away while officers were in place to initiate the search warrant, but before it was executed. The marked squad car began following our client, and pulled him over a few miles away. The officer took our client into custody, and the police drove our client’s car to a nearby parking lot. During this time, drugs were uncovered in our client’s vehicle.
Mel looked at all the evidence against his client and went to work. He sought to suppress the evidence that drugs were found in the vehicle by questioning why his client was pulled over and detained in the first place. He argued that officers had no probable cause to stop his client, and he also did a magnificent job discrediting the exceptions outlined in Michigan v. Summers.
In his argument against Exception #1, Mel reasoned that since his client was unaware of the impending search, and because it had yet to take place, he couldn’t possibly comprehend the thought of fleeing the scene. The presiding judge agreed.
In his argument against Exception #2, Mel correctly argued that officers are much safer executing a search warrant when nobody is home than if the suspect if present. By leaving his residence, Mel’s client unknowingly created a safer environment for the officers who were about to execute the warrant. Mel noted that had the police found weapons or contraband in the residence as part of the legal search, they would have had reason to stop his client, but that was not the case. The presiding judge agreed.
In his argument against Exception #3, Mel stated that Bailey rejects the notion that seizing an individual without probable cause helps facilitate the orderly completion of a search when a suspect departs before a search. An absent suspect can neither hinder a search nor help with its orderly execution. While it may be more convenient for officers to have the suspect in custody, Mel made our forefathers proud by arguing that convenience to law enforcement will never substitute for a person’s 4th Amendment considerations. The presiding judge agreed.
After hearing Mel’s reasoning, the judge had little choice but to suppress the evidence obtained through the unreasonable search and seizure.
Well done, Mel.