People v. Sloan

Decision Date22 August 1995
Docket NumberNo. 100580,No. 17,100580,17
Citation538 N.W.2d 380,450 Mich. 160
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Robert SLOAN, Defendant-Appellee. Calendar
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, John D. O'Hair, Prosecuting Attorney, and Timothy A. Baughman, Detroit, Chief, Research, Training, and Appeals, for the People.

Thomas V. Wilhelm, Bloomfield Hills, for defendant.



This is an interlocutory appeal arising from a denial of the defendant's motion to suppress blood test results obtained pursuant to a search warrant. The general issue is the establishment of probable cause for search warrants under M.C.L. § 780.653; M.S.A. § 28.1259(3). The specific issue is one of first impression for Michigan: When a reviewing court assesses whether probable cause has been established for the issuance of a search warrant, may the reviewing court consider sworn, yet unrecorded, oral testimony that, in addition to an affidavit, was presented to the magistrate before he issued the warrant? We are also asked to determine whether the instant affidavit, considered alone, provided a substantial basis to support a conclusion that probable cause existed.

We hold that when a reviewing court assesses whether probable cause has been established for the issuance of a search warrant, the reviewing court may not consider sworn, yet unrecorded, oral testimony that, in addition to an affidavit, was presented to the magistrate before he issued the warrant. We also hold that the instant affidavit, considered alone, failed to provide a substantial basis to support a conclusion that probable cause existed.

Because we hold that probable cause was not established in this case under M.C.L. § 780.653; M.S.A. § 28.1259(3), we also conclude that the search warrant is invalid and that the blood test results obtained pursuant to the search warrant should be suppressed. The Court of Appeals decision is affirmed. 206 Mich.App. 484, 522 N.W.2d 684 (1994).


To present the relevant facts and proceedings we borrow, in part, from the Court of Appeals opinion:

On March 13, 1993, defendant was involved in an automobile accident that resulted in a fatality. Defendant and his passenger were injured and taken to the hospital. While at the hospital, a blood sample was drawn from defendant pursuant to a search warrant. The affidavit on which the warrant was based stated in pertinent part:

"On 3-13-93 on or about 11:40 p.m. (2340 hrs) Robert Leonard Sloan operating a vehicle in the City of Southgate in [the] area of Pennsylvania & Walter. Collision occurred & appears Robert Leonard Sloan under influence of intoxicating liquor, transported to Wyandotte Hospital & Medical Center. Request blood sample be taken. Robert Leonard Sloan involved in accident causing death."

Defendant was subsequently arrested and bound over on charges of manslaughter with a motor vehicle, MCL 750.321; MSA 28.553, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor causing a death, MCL 257.625(4); MSA 9.2325(4), and felonious driving, MCL 752.191; MSA 28.661. In the trial court, defendant moved to suppress the results of the blood test, arguing that the affidavit was insufficient because it did not allege facts on which probable cause could be based. The trial court allowed the parties to take the testimony of the magistrate who issued the warrant to determine what facts the magistrate had relied upon in issuing the warrant. The magistrate testified that he had questioned the officer about defendant's condition. [206 Mich.App. at 485-486, 522 N.W.2d 684.]

The magistrate stated:

I always question the witnesses regarding specificity of the charge; if there were any field sobriety tests, which I recall there were not because the person was injured and had been transferred to the hospital.

I inquired specifically as to the condition that led them to believe that drinking had been involved, specifically speech, and smell of intoxicants, condition of eyes. As I recall, he was in a condition that he was not able to speak. As I recall, that there was a strong odor of intoxicants and his eyes, which were injured as I recall, were not an important factor as the, you know, whether they were glassy or not because I recall he received injuries.

And I believe, in addition to that, there were statements related to me, about him being the operator of the vehicle, from a passenger had been made to them [sic].

Also that there was, I believe it was a gallon or a half gallon of Jack Daniels in the vehicle itself.

The officer related to me that the investigating officer had felt that there had been drinking involved based upon the strong odor of intoxicants emanating from the mouth of Mr. Sloan.

And based upon those representations, I issued a warrant for the search and drawing of his blood.

At the suppression hearing, the affiant officer also testified regarding his recollections of what he had orally stated to the magistrate when he presented the application for the warrant. The officer testified that he had told the magistrate that there had been evidence of the smell of intoxicants and slurred speech. In pertinent part, the officer stated:

Q. Tell us what you remember.

A. The Judge swore me in; asked me did the subject appear to have a strong odor of intoxicants, slurred speech, and that's all I can recall. Those are the two questions I can recall.

Q. How did you answer those questions?

A. Yes, he did. I answered yes--affirmative to both questions.

* * * * * *

Q. So you told the Judge that there was evidence of the smell of intoxicants and slurred speech?

A. Yes, sir.

The Court of Appeals continued:

The trial court noted that the procedure used in this case, where the warrant was issued after the magistrate read the affidavit and questioned the officer, under oath, followed by the trial court's taking testimony of the magistrate, was not ideal. However, the trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress the blood test results. [206 Mich.App. at 486, 522 N.W.2d 684.]

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court "was not justified in relying on the magistrate's after-the-fact testimony regarding off-the-record statements in reaching the conclusion that the factual basis for the warrant was sufficient." 206 Mich.App. at 487, 522 N.W.2d 684. The Court concluded that the affidavit failed to establish probable cause, and consequently, that the search warrant was invalid and that the blood test results should have been excluded.

This Court granted the prosecutor leave to appeal. 448 Mich. 851 (1995). We now affirm the Court of Appeals decision.


The Michigan Constitution provides that a search warrant 1 may issue only on a showing of probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation.

The person, houses, papers and possessions of every person shall be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. No warrant to search any place or to seize any person or things shall issue without describing them, nor without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation. [Const.1963, art. 1, § 11.]

Implementing this constitutional mandate, M.C.L. § 780.651(1); M.S.A. § 28.1259(l )(1) and M.C.L. § 780.653; M.S.A. § 28.1259(3) require that probable cause be shown in the form of an affidavit presented to a magistrate who will decide whether to issue a warrant on the basis of the affidavit's contents.

When an affidavit is made on oath to a magistrate authorized to issue warrants in criminal cases, and the affidavit establishes grounds for issuing a warrant pursuant to this act, the magistrate, if he or she is satisfied that there is probable cause for the search, shall issue a warrant to search the house, building, or other location or place where the property or thing to be searched for and seized is situated. [M.C.L. § 780.651(1); M.S.A. § 28.1259(l )(1) (emphasis added).]

The magistrate's findings of reasonable or probable cause shall be based on all the facts related within the affidavit made before him or her. 2 [M.C.L. § 780.653; M.S.A. § 28.1259(3) (emphasis added).]

When reviewing courts assess a magistrate's conclusion that probable cause to search existed, such courts apply the standard of review set forth in People v. Russo, 439 Mich. 584, 487 N.W.2d 698 (1992). The standard instructs reviewing courts that "a search warrant and the underlying affidavit are to be read in a common-sense and realistic manner." Id. at 604, 487 N.W.2d 698. Reviewing courts must also pay deference to a magistrate's determination that probable cause existed. This deference requires "the reviewing court to ask only whether a reasonably cautious person could have concluded that there was a 'substantial basis' for the finding of probable cause." Id. at 603, 487 N.W.2d 698, quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 236, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 2331, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983).

When reviewing courts apply the standard from Russo, they must specifically focus on facts and circumstances that support the magistrate's probable cause determination. Reviewing courts may consider only those facts that were presented to the magistrate. Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 112, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 1512, 12 L.Ed.2d 723 (1964). Moreover, reviewing courts must ensure that the magistrate's decision is based on actual facts--not merely the conclusions of the affiant. One of the main purposes of the warrant application procedure is to have a neutral and detached magistrate determine whether probable cause exists. This purpose cannot be achieved if the magistrate simply adopts unsupported conclusions of the affiant. Accordingly, at a minimum, a sufficient affidavit must present facts and circumstances on which a magistrate can rely to make an independent probable cause determination.

These concepts are well...

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