People v. Sobczak-Obetts

Decision Date11 December 2002
Docket NumberDocket No. 236963.
Citation253 Mich. App. 97,654 N.W.2d 337
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Michelle Ann SOBCZAK-OBETTS, a/k/a Michelle Ann McFarlan, Shelly McFarlan, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Jennifer M. Granholm, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, William A. Forsyth, Prosecuting Attorney, and Timothy K. McMorrow, Chief Appellate Attorney, for the people.

Jeffrey P. Kirchhoff, Grand Rapids, for the defendant.



In this interlocutory appeal, the prosecutor appeals by leave granted from the trial court's order granting defendant's motion to suppress the evidence of two handguns seized pursuant to a federal search warrant. We reverse and remand.

Defendant and her husband, Timothy Obetts, were co-owners of Pro Temp One, Inc., doing business as First Agency Professionals, a corporation that provided skilled and semiskilled health care workers to hospitals, nursing homes, and private residences. In May 1997, several of the employees at Pro Temp One were fired, and in that same month the Michigan Accident Fund, Pro Temp One's worker's compensation carrier, received an anonymous telephone call indicating that defendant and Obetts had misrepresented worker's compensation employee classifications to the fund. An investigator from the fund conducted further investigation into the matter and later contacted the Michigan State Police.

The State Police began a criminal investigation and later contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation because of further allegations that defendant and Obetts had obtained a bank loan fraudulently to purchase their home. Sometime after the employees had been fired, they went to work for a direct competitor of Pro Temp One. In August 1997, Pro Temp One brought an action against the former employees for violation of a noncompete agreement. Further, defendant brought a defamation suit against one of the former employees.

Special Agent David Smith of the FBI interviewed two of the former employees and a friend of defendant and, as a result of the interviews, sought and obtained a federal search warrant to search defendant's house, which was issued on October 30, 1997. Smith's affidavit in support of the search warrant did not name the sources, but simply referred to them as "Source One," "Source Two," and "Source Three." On the same day, the federal magistrate also issued a search warrant for Pro Temp One. Both search warrants were executed by federal and state officers on October 31, 1997. During the search of defendant's residence, two FBI agents discovered a locked safe. The police seized business records and also confiscated two handguns found in the safe in defendant's house.1

On January 12, 1998, the Kent County Prosecutor issued a felony complaint charging defendant as a fourth-offense habitual offender, M.C.L. § 769.12, with possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a felony, M.C.L. § 750.224f.2 Defendant was never charged with any federal offense. On January 29, 1998, defendant requested a copy of the search warrant affidavit under MCR 6.201(B)(4), but it was not provided because the federal magistrate had ordered it to be sealed. The preliminary examination was then conducted on February 24, 1998, and defendant again requested a copy of the affidavit. About two weeks after the preliminary examination, the affidavit was provided to defendant, and she was formally bound over on March 11, 1998.

Defendant subsequently moved to suppress evidence of the handguns seized from her house and an evidentiary hearing was conducted on July 29, 1998, and September 9, 1998. Defendant contended that the search warrant was not supported by probable cause because the affidavit contained material omissions and failed to sufficiently show probable cause in general, the seizure of the handguns exceeded the scope of the warrant, the police failed to comply with certain statutory mandates regarding the execution of the warrant, and the warrant was issued on stale information. The trial court concluded that the affidavit did not contain material omissions and contained sufficient averments regarding the reliability of the information. However, it granted the motion to suppress, finding that defendant had not been provided with a copy of the affidavit at the time of the search in contravention of M.C.L. § 780.654. The trial court did not rule on the other arguments at the time, but dismissed the charges after granting the motion to suppress.

The prosecutor appealed to this Court, and a divided panel affirmed the trial court's decision. People v. Sobczak-Obetts, 238 Mich.App. 495, 606 N.W.2d 658 (1999). The prosecutor then sought and was granted leave to appeal in our Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the evidence should not have been suppressed for a violation of the procedural requirements of M.C.L. § 780.655.3 People v. Sobczak-Obetts, 463 Mich. 687, 625 N.W.2d 764 (2001). The Court remanded the matter to the trial court so that the trial court could address any grounds that were not disposed of in the trial court's opinion of September 9, 1998. Id. at 713, n. 20, 625 N.W.2d 764.

On remand, the trial court again granted defendant's motion to suppress at a hearing held on August 10, 2001. The trial court ruled that (1) there was no averment of credibility and reliability of the unnamed sources in the affidavit as required by M.C.L. § 780.653; (2) the warrant was not supported by probable cause because there was insufficient information to conclude that any business records would be found at defendant's house; and (3) the information in the affidavit was stale. The trial court's order was entered on September 12, 2001. The prosecutor sought leave to appeal in this Court, which was granted in an unpublished order entered on November 2, 2001.

The prosecutor argues that the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence because the court improperly applied a state statutory standard to a federal search warrant, improperly substituted its judgment for that of the magistrate in ruling that the warrant was not supported by probable cause, and improperly determined that the information supporting the warrant was stale, and that the "good-faith" exception to the exclusionary rule should be applied to preclude suppression of the evidence. We review for clear error the trial court's ruling regarding the motion to suppress. People v. Stevens (After Remand), 460 Mich. 626, 631, 597 N.W.2d 53 (1999). Application of uncontested facts to constitutional standards is not entitled to the same deference as factual findings, however, and such questions of law are reviewed de novo. Id.


The prosecutor first argues that the trial court erred in applying a state statutory requirement to a federal warrant issued by a federal magistrate. The issue involves the so-called "joint activity" rule, which states that "in a joint operation between the state and federal government, state law governs the validity of a search warrant in a state court." Sobczak-Obetts, supra, 238 Mich.App. at 498-499,606 N.W.2d 658 (1999) citing People v. Paladino, 204 Mich.App. 505, 507-508, 516 N.W.2d 113 (1994).4 Before remand, the prosecutor had conceded that state law governed the validity of the search. The prosecutor now asserts that state law does not apply to the federal warrant because of our Supreme Court's statements in Sobczak-Obetts, supra, 463 Mich. 687,625 N.W.2d 764.

When this case was before the Supreme Court, the Court noted its disapproval of the joint activity rule. The Supreme Court specifically declined to address the issue whether state or federal search warrant standards applied, instead stating:

Because we hold that the statutory violation at issue in this case does not require suppression of evidence in any event, we need not address the propriety of the "joint activity" rule enunciated by the Court of Appeals. Nevertheless, we take this opportunity to note our disapproval of the dicta in Pipok and Paladino suggesting that state warrant requirements apply to joint federal and state execution of federal warrants. Michigan statutory provisions governing issuance and execution of search warrants, on their face, and as a matter of the legislative power of this state, address only search warrants (which are judicial orders) issued by judicial officers of Michigan. See United States Const., art. VI, cl. 2 ("The [sic] Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof ... shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding"); Const. 1963, art. 4, § 1 ("The legislative power of the State of Michigan is vested in a senate and a house of representatives).... The United States of America is a sovereign entity; it does not require officers to provide an affidavit underlying a federal warrant following execution. [Sobczak-Obetts, supra, 463 Mich. at 700-701, n. 12, 625 N.W.2d 764 (emphasis in original).]5

The prosecutor incorrectly argues that the Supreme Court in Sobczak-Obetts held that state warrant requirements were not to be applied to federal warrants, and that we are bound by the Court's decision. The Court specifically stated that it was not addressing the propriety of the joint activity rule given its holding. Therefore, the Court's commentary was clearly dicta and, as such, has no precedential value. Cheron, Inc. v. Don Jones, Inc., 244 Mich. App. 212, 216, 625 N.W.2d 93 (2000).

Because this Court's pronouncement of the joint activity rule in Sobczak-Obetts, supra, 238 Mich.App. 495,606 N.W.2d 658, is binding precedent under the rule of stare decisis, we are not at liberty to...

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2 cases
  • People v. Brown
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • May 22, 2008
    ...thing to be seized, the place to be searched, and the character of the crime. Id. at 605-606, 487 N.W.2d 698; People v. Sobczak-Obetts, 253 Mich.App. 97, 108, 654 N.W.2d 337 (2002). Defendant claims that there is no evidence that he had recently used Trenbolone. The affiant averred that on ......
  • People v. McGhee, Docket No. 239467
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • May 15, 2003
    ...of or retained by the person committing the offense. [Russo, supra at 605-606, 487 N.W.2d 698.] In People v. Sobczak-Obetts (After Remand), 253 Mich.App. 97, 108, 654 N.W.2d 337 (2002), this Court concluded that probable cause was established despite the fact that the affidavit supporting t......

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