Every OWI case starts with the police officer pulling the suspect/defendant over. The United States Constitution and the Constitution for the State of Michigan protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. US Constitution amendment IV; Michigan Constitution 1963 article 1 section 11. People v. Orlando 305 Mich 686 (1943); People v. Beuschlein 245 Mich App 744 (2001). The seizure, in the case of an OWI, is of the person or their breath or other evidence. If the seizure is in violation of the constitution, the case must be dismissed because all the evidence as a result of an unconstitutional stop must be suppressed under the “doctrine of the fruit of the poisonous tree”. The doctrine of fruit of the poisonous tree, means that in order to effectively prevent the police from illegal and unconstitutional stops, is to penalize the police by having all the evidence that is a product of the unconstitutional stop suppressed. The theory being that if enough cases and evidence get dismissed due to illegal police activity they will stop their illegal activity. See Wong v United States, 371 US 471 (1963), People v Stevens (After Remand), 460 Mich 626 (1999).
What is Considered A Legal and Illegal Search During a Stop?
As a general rule, a search or seizure without a warrant is considered to be unreasonable. Almost all OWI arrests are conducted without a warrant, thus the stop must be for probable cause and in a circumstance establishing one of the specific exceptions to an arrest without a warrant. People v Champion, 452 Mich 92 (1996), cert denied, 519 US 1081 (1971). One of the exceptions to a warrant-less search is a sobriety checkpoint. The US Supreme Court ruled that the states have a legitimate interest in protecting the public from drunk driving and found in a balancing test that the brief intrusion of drivers overcome the need to have a warrant. The states are allowed to provide greater protection than the US constitution and the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in Sitz v Dept of State Police, 443 Mich 744 (1993) that the Michigan constitution provided more protection that the US constitution and found that a suspicion-less and warrant-less stop of a motorist was unconstitutional. Thus, there are no sobriety check lanes in Michigan, but they may be legal and used in other states.
The Police Must Have Reasonable Suspicion That You Violated The Law
Because sobriety check lanes in Michigan are illegal, in order for the police to make a valid traffic stop, the police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that he can cogently articulate to the court that the vehicle or one of its occupants has violated the law. The violation of law may be traffic ordinance ( speeding, ect,)or safe ordinance (brake or head lights, ect.) People v Williams, 236 Mich App 610 (1999). Generally the police officer must have personally seen the violation. Once the police officer has seen or can articulate a valid stop, the police can make the stop legally even if the police officer really was pulling the driver over for another reason. In other words, once probable cause can be established the stop is legal. Probable cause is fact dependent and thus each case must stand on its own merits. If the court does not believe the officer had probable cause or the court does not believe the officer in his articulation of facts for the stop, the evidence and the case would and must be suppressed.
The police officer need not ticket or charge a person for the reason they were pulled over. For instance, if a police officer pulls a person over for speeding and later investigation demonstrates a drunk driving situation, the police officer and the state need not ticket you for speeding to maintain the drunk driving charge. An officer can run a computer search of license plate with having probable cause. The observations of a police officer of items in plain view are excepted from the probable cause requirement. Thus, if a license check finds that the car is stolen, the police then can effectuate a stop, even though they did not observe a violation of law. The police can assume that the car is being driven by its owner and if the owner has a warrant for his arrest, the police can make a stop without an observation of a violation of law.
Protect Your Rights During and After The DUI Stop
Drunk driving arrests are almost always based only on the observations of the police. Thus, whether the police officer is telling the truth about what he saw is always an issue for a potential request to suppress. To get around this constant issue, many police departments have video cameras in the squad cars to document and prove or disprove this issue of probable cause. The police when they pull a driver over many times will tell the person why they were pulled over but are not required to do so.
The stop is a more complicated process than meets the eye and must be fully reviewed and investigated in every OWI case, because if it is not a constitutional stop, the case can and will be dismissed.