What to do if you’ve been arrested?

If you have been arrested or charged with any kind of misdemeanor or felony charge in Michigan, or nationwide, your future depends on many things under your control. Being a criminal defendant is a very traumatic and intimidating experience, but there are a number of things that you can do to improve your chances of avoiding a wrongful conviction.

Michigan Criminal Defense LawyerStep One (Shut Up):  The first thing to do is exercise your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Among other protections, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”. This means that you have a right to remain silent. This silence cannot be used against you in a court of law. Anything you say (and even non-verbal communication) can and will be used against you.

In the face of police presence, and certainly an interrogation, we all have the inclination to want to speak, to profess our innocence and to set the facts straight. If you’ve already been arrested, there’s likely very little you can do to improve your situation by speaking without first getting the advice of a competent criminal defense lawyer. Don’t think just because the police didn’t read you your “rights”, your “Miranda Rights”, that what you say won’t be used against you. This only pertains to custodial interrogation. A casual discussion when you are otherwise reasonably free to leave, can and will be used against you as well.

While it is common police practice to lie in order to obtain information from witnesses and criminal defendants, with no repercussions, if you lie to the police you could be charged with obstruction of justice. Hence, appreciate that when you are facing criminal charges, the police are not your friends, they have a job to do which is often diametrically opposed to your interests. You should keep your guard up and know your rights.

Police agencies regularly rely on audio and video evidence.  Keep in mind that you are most likely on camera and everything you say and do is being recorded, which will potentially be evidence used against you. In a high profile case, expect this footage to make the news, which will further impact your life moving forward.

The one thing you can say, and you should say, is that you want to speak with a lawyer. The Sixth Amendment provides that a criminal defendant has a right “to have the Assistance of Counsel” in one’s defense.  Simply advising the police that you intend to cooperate after speaking with an attorney should end the discussion with law enforcement. If they persist, keep repeating your request for an attorney and say nothing else. Keep in mind that anything and everything that you say to a law enforcement officer and for that matter, just about anyone else (there are some exceptions with regard to spouses), may be used against you.

So it is best to not speak about your case to anyone except a lawyer!  Anything you tell to a lawyer that is consulting you is subject to the attorney-client privilege and, by law, is held in strict confidence.

Best Detroit Criminal Defense LawyerStep Two (Get a Lawyer):  There is a saying among lawyers that states “an attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client”. Don’t be a fool, hire a reputable Michigan criminal defense lawyer. If you can’t afford an attorney, request court appointed counsel. You will most likely fare better with an attorney rather than going at it solo. If you are in jail when making contact, make sure you let your attorney know where you are, why you were arrested, if bond has been set, how much it is, and if there are family or friends to contact that may be able to assist you.

Keep every single piece of paper that you receive from law enforcement or court.  You will need to provide these to your lawyer.  There are certain deadlines that you must adhere to, especially when faced with a seizure or forfeiture of property and for refusing chemical tests.  Also, evidence that can help you often has a tendency to disappear or be destroyed when in police custody, so any exculpatory evidence should be requested promptly. You should contact a Michigan criminal defense lawyer at your very earliest opportunity.

A reputable Michigan criminal defense lawyer will appear at your arraignment, and for some crimes may be able to waive formal arraignment so that you do not need to show up. This is especially helpful in the event that an arraigning judge would likely increase your bond conditions, which can include everything from daily drug and alcohol testing to additional cash postings and other things that will interfere with your day to day life.

Keep in mind that some crimes have minimum mandatory jail sentences. For example, for a conviction on a felony firearm charge in Michigan, the term of imprisonment is an automatic two years. So before you consider how much money you’ll save by not hiring an attorney, think about how much income you will lose by being in jail. Or for that matter, how much it will cost you to lose your driving privileges or to have a criminal record that you may have otherwise been avoided. You have a right to an attorney, use it.

The best way to defend your case is with an experienced Michigan criminal defense lawyer. Contact the Law Offices of Marc G. Beginin at (248) 593-1028 for a free initial consultation.

When can a police officer stop and search my car?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.  Generally a warrant, issued by a magistrate and supported by probable cause, is required for a search and seizure. However, there are numerous exceptions to this rule, especially in the context of automobile searches.

THE STOP

Best Michigan Criminal Defense LawyerTraffic Stops. Simple traffic violations have become the downfall of many drug dealers, getaway drivers and fugitives. By failing to observe basic traffic laws, including speeding, rolling through stop signs, failing to use turn signals and a seemingly innumerable other moving violations, law enforcement is given a reason on a silver platter to investigate beyond the scope of the initial stop.  This includes running a LEIN (Law Enforcement Information Network) check on the driver, and possibly the passengers, to see about outstanding warrants, and depending on the factual circumstances, to inquire about the contents of your vehicle.

An officer that pulls you over has the opportunity to interact with you.  While the stop may be a pretext to question you, if in fact the officer observed a traffic infraction, the officer may make the stop irregardless of the alternative reason for making the stop. However, the officer cannot selectively enforce a traffic law (e.g., based on racial profiling), which may be deemed to deny one equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, as a pretext for the stop. This is very hard to prove and is very case specific. However, if the officer did not actually observe a traffic violation, as an in-car video may show, then all evidence discovered subsequent to the search may be suppressed and your case dismissed.

Best Michigan Criminal Defense Lawyer

Investigative Stops. An officer who suspects that a driver is engaged in criminal activity may lack probable cause for an arrest, but it may be enough to engage in what is known as an “investigative stop”. For example, the police may have received a credible tip that a drug deal is about to occur, or someone is transporting contraband in a vehicle.  Even if the officer lacks probable cause to arrest or search the motorist, the officer can stop and temporarily detain the motorist to investigate further if “there is articulable suspicion that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime.” People v Shabaz, 424 Mich 42, 57, 378 NW2d 451 (1985) (citing Terry v Ohio, 392 US 1 (1968)). This means that an officer can stop and temporarily detain a driver even where no traffic violation has occurred and where the officer does not have probable cause to arrest the driver, provided that the officer has a reasonably articulable suspicion of criminal activity.

For the officer to make a legal investigative stop, “[t]he totality of the circumstances as understood and interpreted by law enforcement officers, not legal scholars, must yield a particular suspicion that the individual being investigated has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity. That suspicion must be reasonable and articulable, and the authority and limitations associated with investigative stops apply to vehicles as well as people.” People v Nelson, 443 Mich 626, 632, 505 NW2d 266 (1993). “There is no bright line rule to test whether the suspicion giving rise to an investigatory stop was reasonable, articulable, and particular. Common sense and everyday life experiences predominate over uncompromising standards.”Id. at 635–636. “Reasonable suspicion entails something more than an inchoate or unparticularized suspicion or ‘hunch,’ but less than the level of suspicion required for probable cause.” People v Champion, 452 Mich 92, 98, 549 NW2d 849 (1996).

Police officers commonly rely on their “training and experience” to conclude that a defendant’s actions or circumstances surrounding a situation created a reasonable suspicion that a crime was being committed.  It must, however, be more than a mere “hunch” to rise to the level of reasonable suspicion.  In order to challenge the “training and experience” of an officer, a defendant needs a reputable Michigan criminal defense attorney to properly question the officer on the justification constituting reasonable suspicion for the stop.

THE SEARCH

Detroit LawyerIf the initial traffic stop was legal, either because of valid stop based on a traffic infraction or because of reasonable suspicion for the stop, then the next question to address is whether the officer exceeded the scope of the stop.

For a stop based on a simple traffic violation, “once the driver has demonstrated that he is entitled to operate his vehicle, and the police officer has issued the requisite warning or ticket, the driver ‘must be allowed to proceed on his way.’ ” United States v Branch, 537 F3d 328, 336 (4th Cir 2008). Therefore, the officer cannot use a traffic stop to probe the motorist about unrelated matters if doing so expands the scope of the initial stop beyond the time that would otherwise be necessary to complete the stop.

However, the officer is not limited to asking a motorist for license and registration and may inquire about other topics.  The officer is also not required to allow the driver to remain in the motor vehicle.

“A stop may be extended for a length of time sufficient to enable the apprehending officer to ask the driver to step out of the vehicle or wait in the patrol car, to ask about the motorist’s destination and purpose, to check the validity of the driver’s license and registration, and to check the driver’s criminal history for outstanding warrants. Asking an off-topic question, such as whether a driver is carrying illegal drugs, during an otherwise lawful traffic stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment.” United States v Long, 532 F3d 791, 795 (8th Cir 2008).

If the officer exceeds the permissible scope of the initial stop, the encounter becomes a de facto arrest, and any evidence obtained after that point is considered illegally obtained unless otherwise supported by probable cause. United States v Sharpe, 470 US 675, 684 (1985).

Ann Arbor LawyerExpanding the Scope.  If, however, during the course of an otherwise valid traffic stop, the officer learns additional information that gives him or her a reasonable suspicion to believe a crime has been or is being committed, the officer can expand the scope of the stop to explore the new circumstances. People v Williams, 472 Mich 308, 315, 696 NW2d 636, 641(2005) (“when a traffic stop reveals a new set of circumstances, an officer is justified in extending the detention long enough to resolve the suspicion raised”).

The Motor Vehicle Exception. Generally, if the police have probable cause to search a vehicle, there is no need for them to obtain a warrant before searching it. Carroll v United States, 267 US 132, 153 (1925) (where police have probable cause, “contraband goods concealed and illegally transported in an automobile or other vehicle may be searched for without a warrant”). This so-called motor vehicle exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement is based on the exigency created by an automobile’s “ready mobility” and “the individual’s reduced expectation of privacy in an automobile.” People v Carter, 250 Mich App 510, 517, 655 NW2d 236 (2002). Probable cause to search a vehicle is no different than the probable cause necessary to obtain a warrant to search a residence:

A finding of probable cause requires a substantial basis for concluding that a search would uncover evidence of wrongdoing. There must be “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” The determination whether probable cause exists to support a search, including a search of an automobile without a warrant, should be made in a commonsense manner in light of the totality of the circumstances.

People v Garvin, 235 Mich App 90, 102, 597 NW2d 194 (1999).

Under the automobile exception, an officer may conduct a warrantless search of all parts of a vehicle, including the trunk, containers, and even the passenger’s belongings, if there is probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband. California v Acevedo, 500 US 565 (1991); United States v Ross, 456 US 798, 820–821 (1982) (“When a legitimate search is under way, and when its purpose and its limits have been precisely defined, nice distinctions … between glove compartments, upholstered seats, trunks, and wrapped packages, in the case of a vehicle, must give way to the interest in the prompt and efficient completion of the task at hand.”); Wyoming v Houghton, 526 US 295, 307 (1999) (“police officers with probable cause to search a car may inspect passengers’ belongings found in the car that are capable of concealing the object of the search”).

Practically this occurs in two situations, the police see or smell something.  For example, according the the plain view doctrine, if during a valid traffic stop an officer sees drugs in plain view in the vehicle, the officer can enter the car and seize the drugs without a warrant, and then search the rest of the vehicle as they now have probable cause.

Michigan Medical Marijuana LawyerMichigan law recognizes that “the smell of marijuana alone by a person qualified to know the odor may establish probable cause to search a motor vehicle, pursuant to the motor vehicle exception to the warrant requirement.” People v Kazmierczak, 461 Mich 411, 426, 605 NW2d 667 (2000). This includes the smell of “burned, burning, and unburned marijuana.”Id. at 426 n13. Thus, a police officer that smells what he or she believes to be the odor of marijuana will be justified in searching the entire vehicle. This rule is obviously easy for a police officer to abuse, so it is very important to have an experienced Michigan criminal defense lawyer to challenge an officer’s observations.  The law is unclear as to whether or not an officer smelling burnt marijuana is sufficient justification to search a trunk, especially if no marijuana was discovered in the passenger compartment.

Michigan Murder Defense LawyerSearch Incident to Arrest. In New York v Belton, 453 US 454 (1981), the United States Supreme Court held that an officer can search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to the arrest of the driver or passenger, even in the absence of probable cause or a warrant. The court found that these searches were permissible to ensure that the arrestee could not gain access to a weapon and harm the officer or obtain evidence and destroy it. After Belton, this rule evolved well beyond the bounds of its initial justification, and courts routinely upheld vehicle searches incident to arrest even where the driver was handcuffed and locked in the back seat of the patrol car. Obviously, such incapacitated individuals cannot access the passenger compartment of their vehicles, and the safety and evidentiary concerns of the Belton court are not present.

In Arizona v Gant, 556 US 332, 129 S Ct 1710 (2009), the U.S. Supreme Court finally put an end to this overbroad application of the Belton rule, holding that no such search is permissible if the arrestee is under the control of the police and there is no reasonable possibility that he or she could actually access the vehicle. In narrowing the scope of the rule, theGant court held:

Police may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. When these justifications are absent, a search of an arrestee’s vehicle will be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant or show that another exception to the warrant requirement applies.

129 S Ct at 1723–1724. In a vehicle search case that arose two years before Gant was decided, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that when the police conduct a search in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent, the exclusionary rule does not apply. Davis v United States, ___ US ___, 131 S Ct 2419 (2011). In the earlier case of People v Short, 289 Mich App 538, 797 NW2d 665 (2010), the court held that because it was objectively reasonable for an officer to rely on Belton before it was changed by Gant, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied, and the trial court correctly denied defendant’s motion to suppress.

Detroit Murder Defense LawyerConsent. An owner or person in control of a vehicle (i.e., presumably the driver) can give consent for a police search. In this case, no warrant is required and no probable cause is necessary. The consent must from someone authorized to give consent, be freely given and the search must be limited to the scope of the consent.

For example, permission from a driver of a motor vehicle to search it would not properly include the purse of a passenger without the passenger’s consent. Also, if you have a taser pointed at you and prior to any Miranda warnings, consent may not be deemed freely given. Finally, consent to search the passenger compartment of a vehicle, does not necessarily include the trunk.

Factors to be considered in determining whether the consent was given freely include whether the defendant was handcuffed or placed under custodial arrest and whether the police coerced the consent through a “show of force,” such as by drawing their weapons. Malone, 180 Mich App at 355. While the police do not have to inform your client that he or she has the right to refuse consent, “knowledge of the right to refuse is but one factor to consider in determining whether consent was voluntary under the totality of the circumstances.” People v Borchard-Ruhland, 460 Mich 278, 294, 597 NW2d 1 (1999) (citing Schneckloth v Bustamonte, 412 US 218, 248–249 (1973)).

Also consider that “the party granting consent to a search may limit its scope or may revoke consent after granting it. Thus, because consent flows from its grantor, a suspect may of course delimit as he chooses the scope of the search to which he consents.” People v Dagwan, 269 Mich App 338, 343, 711 NW2d 386 (2005) (internal citations omitted). The test for determining the scope of a consent to search “is that of ‘objective reasonableness’—what would the typical reasonable person have understood by the exchange between the officer and the suspect?” Florida v Jimeno, 500 US 248 (1991).

Michigan Search and Seizure LawyerInventory Search/Inevitable Discovery.  Even after establishing the search of a vehicle was unconstitutional because it exceeded the scope of a permissible search incident to arrest under Arizona v Gant, 556 US 332 (2009), the prosecutor will fall back on inventory search and the doctrine of “inevitable discovery”.  Meaning the police would have found the evidence when they impounded the vehicle and conducted an “inventory search”.

The doctrine of inevitable discovery provides that evidence obtained through an unconstitutional search may “still be admitted at trial if the prosecution establishe[s] by a preponderance of the evidence that the information ultimately or inevitably would have been discovered by lawful means.” People v Brzezinski, 243 Mich App 431, 435, 622 NW2d 528 (2000). The police can legally conduct an inventory search of a vehicle, without a warrant, once it has been impounded. The purposes of an inventory search are “(1) protection of the owner’s property while in police custody, (2) protection of police against claims of lost or stolen property, and (3) protection of the police from potential physical danger.” People v Toohey, 438 Mich 265, 284, 475 NW2d 16 (1991). No warrant is necessary because “such a search is considered to be an administrative function rather than a part of a criminal investigation.” People v Houstina, 216 Mich App 70, 77, 549 NW2d 11 (1996).

In this case, the prosecutor bears the burden of proving that the police would have actually conducted a valid inventory search, that would have inevitably happened and that would have discovered the contraband.  It is not enough to say that just because the police had the right to conduct an inventory search, that it would have actually happened.  “[T]he validity of the inventory search depends on whether there were standardized criteria, policies, or routines regulating how inventory searches were to be conducted. … The goal is to prevent inventory searches from being used as ‘a ruse for general rummaging in order to discover incriminating evidence’ and, therefore, the applicable policy ‘should be designed to produce an inventory.’ ” People v Poole, 199 Mich App 261, 265, 501 NW2d 265 (1993) (quoting Florida v Wells, 495 US 1, 4 (1990)).

Detroit Felony Firearm LawyerExigent Circumstances/Safety. “[W]arrants are generally required to search a person’s home or his person unless the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that the warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” United States v Santana, 427 US 38, 42, 43 (1976). The “exigent circumstances” exception to the search warrant requirement provides that the police may search without a warrant in cases of an “ ‘actual emergency’ if there are ‘specific and objective facts indicating that immediate action is necessary to (1) prevent the imminent destruction of evidence, (2) protect the police officers or others, or (3) prevent the escape of a suspect.’ ” People v Chowdhury, 285 Mich App 509, 526, 775 NW2d 845 (2009).

In the context of an automobile search, Terry v Ohio, 392 US 1; 88 S Ct 1868 (1968), allows for protective search for weapons in an automobile if the officer points to “specific and articulable facts” which, along with rational inferences, alert the police that a suspect is dangerous and may gain immediate control of weapons, thereby reasonably warranting the intrusion. Michigan v Long, 463 US 1032, 1049 (1983).  Hence, if the police reasonably believe the defendant to be dangerous and the automobile to contain weapons, then they may search for weapons.  If the police are reasonably searching for weapons and they find other contraband, then the items found would be the subject of a valid search.

The best way to defend your case is with an experienced Michigan criminal defense lawyer. Contact the Law Offices of Marc G. Beginin at (248) 593-1028 for a free initial consultation.

When can I start collecting money on a judgment in Michigan?

When can I collect on a Judgment in MichiganThe simple answer is 21 days after you have a “final judgment”, sometimes referred to as a “final order”. That’s when the judge issues an order that disposes of all the claims of all the parties to a case, and awards a party money damages.

The issue becomes more complicated when a question arises with respect to when a judgment or order is, in fact, final.

A case determinative order may be entered by way of bench trial, jury verdict or motion for summary disposition. If however, and for example only, the losing party files a motion for a new trial or a motion for reconsideration within 21 days of the initial order, the time is extended until the court decides such motion. If the court denies the motion for a new trial or reconsideration, then the verdict is “final”. The 21 day clock starts ticking again at the time of the court order on the motion.

Assuming that a losing party has exhausted all their post award or verdict relief in the court that rendered it, the judgment is final. The losing party must preserve their appeal of right by filing a claim of appeal within 21 days from the order denying their motion for new trial. Otherwise, collection activities may begin 21 days after the court order denying post judgment relief.

But what if the court has not yet decided about an award of costs and attorney fees?

The above is true even if an award of attorney fees is pending! The reason is the final post judgment relief order, when combined with the original judgment, constitutes a final order for purposes of MCR 7.202.

MCR 7.202(6)(a)(i) provides that a “final judgment” includes “the first judgment or order that disposes of all the claims and adjudicates the rights and liabilities of all the parties, including such an order entered after reversal of an earlier final judgment or order.” In that same rule MCR 7.202(6)(a)(iv), a “final judgment” is further defined as “a postjudgment order awarding or denying attorney fees and costs under MCR 2.403, 2.405, 2.625 or other law or court rule.” In other words, the court rule (and case law) quite clearly distinguishes between a “final judgment” on the claims involved in the case, and a “final judgment” on a post-judgment motion for attorney fees.  Both are considered “final judgments” and both are separately appealable and subject to the appeal time limits set forth in the Michigan Court Rules.

When the attorney fees issue is later decided, the losing party may file a separate appeal from that order. But an appeal from the fee award does not preserve right to appeal from the original judgment if a claim of appeal is not timely filed from that final order. In such a situation, two separate appeals must be filed. See McIntosh v McIntosh, 282 Mich App 471, 483-484 (2009), holding that there must be two appeals filed in this circumstance.

This result also follows from the explicit language of MCR 7.202(6)(a)(iv) and MCR 7.203(A). The first of these rules specifies that a post judgment order granting or denying attorney fees is appealable by right. The language of this rule refers explicitly to a prior judgment having been entered. It is that judgment that constitutes a final order as well under the court rules.

Moreover, MCR 7.203(A) expressly confirms that if the defendants were to claim an appeal from the yet-to-be-decided order regarding attorney fees their appeal would be specifically limited to the attorney fees issues. In most circumstances, they would have no right to appeal the underlying judgment.

The clear language of MCR 2.614(A) also supports this conclusion. That rule provides that, absent a stay, collection efforts on a judgment can begin 21 days after the denial or a motion for other post-judgment relief. Thus, even without recourse to the final judgment considerations, the court rules explicitly allow a prevailing party to execute on a judgment in light of a court’s denial of post judgment motion(s).

This position is also fully supported by MCR 7.208(I), the court rule that explicitly recognizes that a circuit court has jurisdiction to consider a request for attorney fees despite the fact that an appeal has been filed. The only reason why this court rule exists is because, under the final order rule, there will be situations of which a request for fees will be filed after an appeal is taken. Again, this is a recognition of the fact that an appeal will be taken from a final order before the question of attorney fees is decided.

If a losing party does not file a timely claim of appeal on the original judgment’s final order, they cannot appeal it.  Hence, even if the 21 days have run on final order, collection efforts may begin, even if the attorney fees issue has yet to be decided.

But what if the court order doesn’t contain the language “final judgment” or “final order”?

The Court of Appeals has explicitly held that language in a court order declaring that an order is or is not a final judgment is in no way binding on the Court of Appeals in its determination of whether the order being appealed is a final judgment. See Faircloth v Family Independent Agency, 232 Mich App 391, 400-401 (1998).  An order’s status as a “final judgment” is to be determined by the Court of Appeals on the basis of the court rules and the decisional authority interpreting them, not the language that the parties or the court choose to place in an order.  If an order disposes of all the claims of all the parties to a case, it is final.

The best way to collect on your judgment is with an experienced Michigan business lawyer. Contact the Law Offices of Marc G. Beginin at (248) 593-1028 for a free initial consultation.