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Michigan appeals court sides with defendant in drug case

Search and seizure of evidence is an important issue when it comes to criminal defense, especially cases involving drug charges. Police are bound by certain rules when investigating suspected criminal activity and failure to follow those rules can ultimately weaken prosecution’s case. A recent decision by a Michigan court of appeals highlights this fact.

The decision, which came on Wednesday, held that police who pulled over a driver because the tow ball on his vehicle blocked his license plate did not have probable cause to make that stop, and that therefore their subsequent search of the defendant’s vehicle was illegal. In the search, police had found marijuana and other drugs, but because the search was illegal, that evidence was tainted. 

The justification for pulling the man over was that Michigan law requires that no foreign materials “obscure or partially obscure” motorists’ license plates. The law doesn't specifically mention trailer hitches, but many people obviously have them on their vehicles.

Because the evidence of drug possession was tainted, the court held that it may be suppressed from the case. It is possible that the case will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, but until then the case is a victory for privacy rights.

Criminal defendants who have been charged with a drug crime and who feels they may have been subjected to an illegal search should get in contact with an experienced criminal defense attorney. A good attorney knows what to look for in building a strong defense case and how to protect the rights and interests of a criminal defendant at every stage of the criminal process.

Source: Daily Journal, “Court throws out drug evidence, says nothing illegal about tow ball blocking license plate,” Ed White, September 11, 2014.

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