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In The News

Monday, May 2, 2016

The "Castle Doctrine" Gets New Vitality from the Michigan Court of Appeals

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Drug Crimes

They say that a "man's (woman's) home is his(her) castle." The Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled that an unsupported claim by police officers of an "emergency" inside is not enough to breech the walls of the castle. The United States Constitution protects people from warrantless searches and seizures by the government through the 4th Amendment. A long-standing case from the Supreme Court of the United States (Payton v New York) established what is known as the "castle doctrine." The doctrine stands for the proposition that the police must have a warrant to enter your home or a bona fide ongoing emergency that is an exception to the warrant requirement such as "hot pursuit" of a person suspected of committing a felony.

Judges are obligated to enforce this constitutional protection by excluding from evidence anything obtained during an illegal search. When a Judge excludes evidence from trial it removes the incentive for police to perform these types of illegal searches. However, one claim that the police can try to make to justify a warrantless search of your home without a warrant is by claiming exigent circumstances such as the destruction of evidence. The police can claim the process of obtaining a search warrant can sometimes take too long and they cannot afford to wait.

In September 2012 Macomb Police officers,acting on an informant’s tip investigated Mr. Hartigan’s home as a suspected marijuana grow house. Police officers spoke with Mr. Hartigan through a window at the front door. The Police officer claimed he could smell marijuana and asked if he could search the citizen’s home. Mr. Hartigan requested that the officer present a search warrant and declined to give up his constitutional rights absent a lawfully issued search warrant. About three minutes later the police claimed they feared destruction of evidence and forcibly entered Mr. Hartigan's home. The home was secured and approximately 90 marijuana plants and 360 grams of bagged loose marijuana were discovered while one police officer was sent away to obtain a search warrant.

Mr. Hartigan moved in his trial court to suppress the illegally obtained evidence. The District Court denied the motion after finding that exigent circumstances existed. The Circuit Court and Court of Appeals both found that no exigent circumstances existed. The police could not articulate any specific and objective facts which indicated they had a legitimate concern that evidence was about to be destroyed. The Circuit Court however did find that the police would have lawfully discovered the evidence and decided the evidence could be introduced under the inevitable discovery doctrine.

However, in order to assert the inevitable discovery doctrine the prosecution has the burden of proving the evidence would have been lawfully discovered absent the police misconduct. The Court of Appeals reversed. The Court found that the prosecution did not meet its burden. The prosecution did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that if they had not forcibly entered the citizen’s house they would have been able to lawfully obtain a search warrant to enter. For the attorneys who are on the cutting edge of the law and committed to results, contact the Nichols Lawyers at 517.432.9000.

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Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.