Michigan Police Can’t Search Passengers Without Consent

When Are Your Privacy Rights Not Forfeit?

We’ve all been riding shotgun with some shady characters behind the wheel. And if that shady character gets pulled over, does that mean police can search you and all your belongings? Not in Michigan any more.

“A person can get in a car without leaving his Fourth Amendment rights at the curb,” according to the Michigan Supreme Court, meaning police officers in the state will need to be re-trained and one lucky man isn’t facing 10 years behind bars.

Backpack in the Front Seat

Larry Mead was just getting a ride from a woman he met earlier in the evening when she was pulled over for having an expired license plate. Mead had a backpack with him, and while the driver gave her consent to search the car, he never gave explicit consent to have his backpack searched. Officers searched it anyway, discovering prescription pills, marijuana, and methamphetamine. Mead was arrested, convicted of drug possession, and sentenced to serve two to 10 years in prison as a fourth-offense habitual offender.

Mead appealed his conviction, and the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the search was unconstitutional. “A passenger’s personal property is not subsumed by the vehicle that carries it for Fourth Amendment purposes,” wrote Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, adding, “a person may challenge an alleged Fourth Amendment violation if that person can show under the totality of the circumstances that he or she had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched and that his or her expectation of privacy was one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.”

And because Mead was challenging a search of his personal effects — a backpack that was “sitting in his lap that he kind of had his arms around,” he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his
backpack. Additionally, without Mead’s consent or probable cause to search the backpack, the search was unconstitutional and anything found may not be used as evidence.

Rights on the Road

The limits of police search and seizure, especially when it comes to vehicles, can be legally murky. And the new rule in Michigan may not be the same for all states.

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