Finding yourself in a car that’s being pulled over by the police is stressful, even if you’re a passenger. That stress can be magnified if the driver has something to hide. But now, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that vehicle passengers do not surrender their Fourth Amendment rights during traffic stops.
Specifically, the court noted that passengers have more power to question police searches that may be deemed “unreasonable,” affecting state and local police, including in Metro Detroit, where officers may need to be retrained on appropriate and legal procedures.
A searched backpack, a change in the law
In May of 2014 during a routine traffic stop in Jackson County, passenger Larry Mead alleged that his rights were not upheld when police searched his backpack without obtaining consent. The stop was the result on an expired tag on the vehicle, and Mr. Mead’s backpack contained marijuana and methamphetamine, leading to potentially a 10-year long prison sentence.
However, Michigan’s Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, declared the search unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court stated that police do not have the right to search a passenger based on the consent of the driver, which meant that Mr. Mead would not be facing the 10-year sentence.
The Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, the organizing body in charge of the training plans for the state’s police force, are expected to review the curriculum for new officers and announce if any changes to the training are needed.
While this change in the law can be beneficial to passengers, there may still be some instances where this type of search occurs. In these instances, a trained, experienced litigator can step in and review the matter, helping to protect your rights in the long term.
If and when you are stopped by the police, an attorney should be contacted to help guide you through the situation and aftermath, in order to potentially spare you serious repercussions.