People v. Mead

Decision Date08 August 2017
Docket NumberNo. 327881,327881
Citation320 Mich.App. 613,908 N.W.2d 555
Parties PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Larry Gerald MEAD, Defendant–Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, Jerard M. Jarzynka, Prosecuting Attorney, and Jerrold Schrotenboer, Chief Appellate Attorney, for the people.

Michael A. Faraone, PC (by Michael A. Faraone ), for defendant.

Before: Talbot, C.J., and O’Connell and K. F. Kelly, JJ.

ON REMAND

O’Connell, J.

This case addressing defendant, Larry Gerald Mead’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches returns to us on remand from the Michigan Supreme Court. Mead appeals as of right his conviction, following a jury trial, of possessing methamphetamine, MCL 333.7403(2)(b)(i ), as a fourth-offense habitual offender, MCL 769.12. The trial court sentenced him to serve 2 to 10 years’ imprisonment. Defendant challenged the validity of the search in the trial court. In our prior opinion, we concluded that Mead, a passenger in a vehicle, lacked standing to challenge the search of a container in the vehicle under People v. Labelle , 478 Mich. 891, 732 N.W.2d 114 (2007), and we affirmed Mead’s conviction on that basis.1 However, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated our judgment and remanded for us to consider:

(1) whether [the Michigan Supreme Court’s] peremptory order in People v. LaBelle [Labelle] , 478 Mich. 891 (2007), is distinguishable; (2) whether the record demonstrates that the police officer reasonably believed that the driver had common authority over the backpack in order for the driver’s consent to justify the search, see Illinois v. Rodriguez , 497 U.S. 177, 181, 183–189, 110 S.Ct. 2793, 111 L.Ed.2d 148 (1990) ; and (3) whether there are any other grounds upon which the search may be justified.[2 ]

On remand, we address all three issues, conclude that issue one controls, and affirm.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On the night of May 29, 2014, Rachel Taylor was driving a vehicle, and Mead rode in the front passenger seat. Officer Richard Burkart testified that he stopped the vehicle for an expired license plate. Officer Burkart stated that Mead had a backpack on his lap. According to Officer Burkart, Taylor consented to a search of the vehicle, Officer Burkart asked Taylor and Mead to exit the vehicle, and Mead left the backpack "on the front passenger floorboard." When Officer Burkart searched the vehicle, he opened the backpack and found methamphetamine. Mead admitted that the backpack belonged to him but moved to suppress the evidence found in the backpack. The trial court denied his motion.

II. PEOPLE v. LABELLE

We conclude that the Michigan Supreme Court’s order in Labelle , 478 Mich. at 891–892, 732 N.W.2d 114, is not distinguishable from the present case, and therefore we are required to affirm both defendant’s conviction and sentence.

The defendant in Labelle was a passenger in a motor vehicle. Id . The LaBelle vehicle’s driver violated MCL 257.652(1), and the police stopped the vehicle. Id at 891, 732 N.W.2d 114. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded that the stop was objectively lawful. Id . After the stop, the driver consented to a search of the vehicle. See id . Police then searched an unlocked backpack that the defendant left in the "passenger compartment of the vehicle." See id at 891–892, 732 N.W.2d 114. The defendant moved to suppress evidence of the contents of the backpack. See id at 892, 732 N.W.2d 114. However, the Supreme Court concluded that "[t]he search of the backpack was valid," explaining that "[b]ecause the stop of the vehicle was legal, the defendant, a passenger, lacked standing to challenge the subsequent search of the vehicle." Id . Further, "[a]uthority to search the entire passenger compartment of the vehicle includes any unlocked containers located therein, including the backpack in this case." Id .

We cannot distinguish the relevant facts of Mead’s case from those underlying the Supreme Court’s order in Labelle . Mead was a passenger in a motor vehicle driven by Taylor. Officer Burkart stopped the vehicle. Mead has not challenged the validity of the stop. After the stop, Taylor consented to a search of the vehicle. Officer Burkart then searched an unlocked backpack in the vehicle’s passenger compartment. Therefore, under Labelle , Mead lacked standing to challenge the search, and Officer Burkart had authority to search the backpack. Labelle is binding on this Court. People v. Giovannini , 271 Mich.App. 409, 414, 722 N.W.2d 237 (2006). Because Mead lacks standing to challenge the search, any challenge to the search must fail. See People v. Earl , 297 Mich.App. 104, 107, 822 N.W.2d 271 (2012), aff’d 495 Mich. 33, 845 N.W.2d 721 (2014).

III. REASONABLE BELIEF OF COMMON AUTHORITY

Notwithstanding the fact that existing Michigan law provides that a passenger in a motor vehicle does not have standing to contest the search of a third party’s vehicle, the Supreme Court has directed us to address whether the record in the present case demonstrates that Officer Burkart reasonably believed that Taylor had common authority over the backpack in order for Burkart’s consent to justify the search of the backpack. In regard to that issue, the Supreme Court has directed our attention to Rodriguez , 497 U.S. at 181, 183–189, 110 S.Ct. 2793.

The Rodriguez Court did not address warrantless searches, pursuant to consent, of containers in automobiles. Rather, it addressed "[w]hether a warrantless entry [to an apartment] is valid when based upon the consent of a third party whom the police, at the time of the entry, reasonably believe to possess common authority over the premises, but who in fact does not" possess common authority. Id . at 179, 110 S.Ct. 2793. In doing so, the Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment prohibition against warrantless entry to another’s home does not apply when the police obtained "voluntary consent" from either "the individual whose property is searched," "a third party who possesses common authority over the premises," or a third party whom an officer reasonably believes possesses common authority over the premises. Id . at 181–182, 186–189, 110 S.Ct. 2793. Common authority exists among persons with " ‘mutual use of the property by persons generally having joint access or control for most purposes....’ " Id . at 181, 110 S.Ct. 2793, quoting United States v. Matlock , 415 U.S. 164, 171 n. 7, 94 S.Ct. 988, 39 L.Ed.2d 242 (1974). An officer reasonably believes that a third party possesses common authority over a premises if "the facts available to the officer at the moment" would "warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that the consenting party had authority over the premises[.]" Id . at 188, 110 S.Ct. 2793 (quotations and citations omitted).

Multiple federal circuit courts and other state courts have applied Rodriguez ’s common-authority framework to evaluate a third party’s consent to search a container inside a vehicle. See State v. Harding , 282 P.3d 31, 34–41, 2011 UT 78 (2011) (discussing several of those cases). Those foreign courts have determined that officers violate person’s Fourth Amendment rights when searching a bag in a car when officers could not have a reasonable belief that a third party had common authority to consent to the search. Id . In citing caselaw from those courts, the Utah Supreme Court of Utah determined that courts evaluate the reasonableness of an officer’s actions by analyzing several factors, such as the type of container searched, any identifying material on the outside of the container, the container’s location, the number of containers, the number of passengers, and the passengers’ conduct. Id . at 38–39.

If Rodriguez and its extension to searches of containers in automobiles as applied in foreign courts were the law in Michigan, an argument that Officer Burkart lacked a reasonable belief that Taylor had common authority over the backpack would have some merit. A backpack is a container used to store personal items, which suggests individual, rather than common, ownership. Harding , 282 P.3d at 38. The relationship between Mead and Taylor suggests that Taylor would not have had authority over Mead’s personal items. Mead testified that he met Taylor on the night of the search. Taylor stated on a video of the traffic stop that Mead was in her car because she was dropping Mead off on her way to another destination. Officer Burkart testified that Mead had the backpack on his lap with his arms resting on either side at the time of the stop. The video shows that Officer Burkart searched the backpack while it was placed in the passenger side of the vehicle. Officer Burkart testified that he believed that the backpack belonged to Mead.

However, in Michigan, Rodriguez ’s common-authority framework does not apply to warrantless searches of containers in automobiles. Caselaw from foreign courts is not binding. Great Lakes Society v. Georgetown Charter Twp. , 281 Mich.App. 396, 414, 761 N.W.2d 371 (2008). No Michigan Court has successfully applied Rodriguez ’s common authority framework to warrantless searches, pursuant to consent, of containers in automobiles. To the contrary, this Court applied the framework to the search of the backpack in People v. Labelle , 273 Mich.App. 214, 221–226, 729 N.W.2d 525 (2006), rev’d 478 Mich. 891, 732 N.W.2d 114 (2007), and concluded that the deputy had no consent to search the backpack because it was not reasonable for the deputy to believe that the driver had common authority over the backpack. But the Michigan Supreme Court reversed that judgment, reasoned that "[a]uthority to search the entire passenger compartment of the vehicle includes any unlocked containers located therein," and concluded that "[t]he search of the backpack was valid." Labelle , 478 Mich. at 891–892, 732 N.W.2d 114.

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