On April 22nd , the Supreme Court of Michigan issued an opinion that expands protection from unreasonable search and seizures of passengers and their personal items in an automobile in People Of The State of Michigan v. Larry Gerald Mead. This is a huge advancement for Fourth
Amendment protections from search and seizure for people in the state of Michigan.
Basic Facts presented in People Of The State Of Michigan v. Larry Gerald Mead:
Mr. Mead was the passenger in a car driven by Ms. Taylor, whom he had just met at a house he was visiting. Mr. Mead asked Ms. Taylor for a ride and she agreed. Mr. Mead had a backpack with him in Ms. Taylor’s vehicle. Mr. Mead was clutching the backpack on his lap, when Ms. Taylor was pulled over by police in Jackson, Michigan. When Ms. Taylor admitted that she did not have a valid driver’s license and was asked outside of the presence of Mr. Mead if the officer could search her vehicle, Ms. Taylor indicated that the officer could search her vehicle. The officer proceeded to go back to Ms. Taylor’s car and asked Mr. Mead to step out of the car. Mr. Mead left his backpack on the floorboard of the passenger’s side of the car, before stepping out. Testimony given in this case is conflicting about whether the officer ordered Mr. Mead to leave his backpack in the car. As the officer searched Ms. Taylor’s car, he opened Mr. Mead’s backpack and “found a digital scale, 5 prescription pills, 9.8 grams of marijuana, and 4.03 grams of methamphetamine.” The officer who searched Ms. Taylor’s car testified “that Taylor did not give explicit consent to search the backpack (only the vehicle) and that he did not separately seek the defendant’s consent to search the backpack.”
Issues Presented in People Of The State Of Michigan v. Larry Gerald Mead:
The Supreme Court grappled with whether the record in the lower court illustrated that the police officer could have reasonably thought that the driver Ms. Taylor had the authority to consent to the officer’s search of Mr. Mead’s backpack. The Michigan Supreme Court also had to determine whether the search violated a Fourth Amendment protection and if so then did the search that the police officer conducted in Ms. Taylor’s car comply with the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. To answer these questions, the Supreme Court had to analyze “standing” to challenge the search and seizure.
Michigan Supreme Court’s assessment of who has “standing” to challenge a search of an automobile:
Longstanding law of the land is that people are protected from “unreasonable searches and seizures”. To claim those protections, a person must illustrate that he had “an expectation of privacy in the area searched.” Rakas v. Illinois, 439 US 128 (1978); People v. Smith, 420 Mich 1, 17-18 (1984). The Supreme Court explained in the April 22nd , 2019 opinion that typically “a passenger will not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in someone else’s car.” The Supreme Court yesterday held that “Rakas did not hold that passengers cannot have an expectation of privacy in automobiles”, citing Byrd v. United States, 138 S Ct 1518 (2018). The Supreme Court of Michigan “Reaffirm[ed] that a person—whether she is a passenger in a vehicle, or a pedestrian, or a homeowner, or a hotel guest—may challenge an alleged Fourth Amendment violation if she can show under the totality of the circumstances that she had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched and that her expectation of privacy was one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable,” citing to the case of People v. Smith, 420 Mich 1, 17-18 (1984). The Supreme Court found that Mr. Mead “had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his backpack.” The Court reiterated “the Fourth Amendment specifically guarantees “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects . . . “, citing to the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court also found that by “clutching in his lap” his backpack, Mr. Mead “asserted a clear possessory interest in the backpack. The Court held “a person can get in a car without leaving his Fourth Amendment rights at the curb.” We love this quote!
The Court’s findings on Consent in this case:
The Michigan Supreme Court also asked “whether the search was lawful?” The Court held that “an officer must obtain consent to search from someone who has authority to give it.” The Court indicated that Ms. Taylor, the driver of the car, who gave her consent to the officer to search her car, did not have “mutual use of the backpack.” The Court looked at the purpose of a backpack and stated that “a backpack is used to transport personal items, which suggests individual ownership rather than common ownership.” In this case, the Supreme Court found that the officer knew that Ms. Taylor and Mr. Mead “were near strangers”. The Court also described Ms. Taylor to an Uber or Lyft driver to explain her lack of a relationship with Mr. Mead. “Taylor was like a rideshare driver who has only short-term contact with passengers—an objectively reasonable officer would not believe that an Uber driver could consent to the search of his passenger’s purse”. Consent was not applicable in this case to justify the warrantless search of Mr. Mead’s backpack.
So, what does this case mean?
If an individual is traveling in a vehicle in the state of Michigan with a near stranger, meaning an Uber/Lyft driver or someone just met, who agrees to provide a ride somewhere, even if the Uber/Lyft driver or near stranger driving the vehicle is pulled over and gives “consent” for his or her car to be searched, the passenger’s purse, backpack or “effects” cannot be searched by a police officer, unless the driver who gave consent has the authority to give consent for all bags in the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Unless the driver has “mutual use of the” purse, backpack or personal effect, his/her consent to an officer to search the automobile will not be enough to forfeit the passenger’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. This is a great case for those of us who use rideshare services or get rides from near strangers.