People v. Sobczak-Obetts

Decision Date01 May 2001
Docket NumberDocket No. 115890, Calendar No. 9.
Citation625 N.W.2d 764,463 Mich. 687
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Michelle Ann SOBCZAK-OBETTS, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

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

Jeffrey P. Kirchhoff, Grand Rapids, MI, for the defendant-appellee.

Jeffrey L. Sauter, President, John D. O'Hair, Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney, and Timothy A. Baughman, Chief, Research, Training and Appeals, Detroit, MI, Amicus Curiae, for Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.



We granted leave in this case to consider whether firearms found in defendant's home, upon execution by federal and state police officers of a federal search warrant, were properly excluded from evidence in a state prosecution. The firearms were suppressed on the ground that a copy of the affidavit in support of the search warrant was not provided, as required by statute, to defendant at the time the warrant was executed. Because we are unable to conclude that the Legislature intended the exclusionary rule to apply to the procedural violation of Michigan's statutory warrant requirements at issue in this case, we reverse.


Defendant and her husband, Timothy Obetts, were co-owners of Pro Temp One Incorporated,1 a Michigan corporation that provided skilled and semiskilled health care workers to hospitals, nursing homes, and private homes. In May 1997, the Michigan Accident Fund, Pro Temp One's worker's compensation carrier, received a call on its fraud hotline indicating that defendant, Obetts, and Pro Temp One had misrepresented worker's compensation employee classifications to the fund. After gathering information from associates and former employees of Pro Temp One, a fraud investigator from the fund contacted Michigan State Police Sergeant Jack Vanderwal, who initiated a criminal investigation. Vanderwal contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation after determining that defendant and Obetts may have obtained bank loans by use of fraud in addition to defrauding the fund of worker's compensation premiums.

Special Agent David Smith of the FBI interviewed two former employees of Pro Temp One and a personal friend of defendant.2 On the basis of the information provided by these three sources, Smith sought a federal search warrant to search the private residence of defendant and Obetts. Smith's affidavit in support of the search warrant referred to the three sources as "Source One," "Source Two," and "Source Three." On October 30, 1997, a federal magistrate issued the requested search warrant.3 The magistrate ordered that the affidavit in support of the warrant be sealed, apparently to protect the sources.

On October 31, 1997, the federal search warrant was executed at the residence of defendant and Obetts by one or more FBI agents and one or more Michigan State Police officers. While searching the basement of the home, two of the FBI agents came upon a locked safe. The agents asked defendant about the contents of the safe, and she replied that it contained weapons. Defendant then unlocked the safe, and the agents seized two handguns from it. In accordance with federal procedure, when the search was completed, defendant was given a copy of the search warrant and a tabulation of the items seized. Notably, defendant was not provided with a copy of the sealed affidavit. Defendant was subsequently charged by the Kent County Prosecutor with possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a felony. MCL 750.224f; MSA 28.421(6).4

At defendant's preliminary examination, defense counsel requested a copy of the affidavit in support of the search warrant. The assistant prosecutor indicated that the federal magistrate would be petitioned to unseal the affidavit for purposes of the state proceedings. The district court judge presiding over the preliminary examination stated that he would bind defendant over for trial after defendant received a copy of the affidavit. Within two weeks following the preliminary examination, the affidavit was unsealed and provided to defendant, and she was bound over for trial.

Defendant moved to exclude the firearms from evidence on various grounds, including that the police did not comply with Michigan statutory requirements regarding warrant execution. Following two hearings on the motion to suppress, the trial court held that the motion had to be granted on the ground that defendant was not provided with a copy of the affidavit in support of the search warrant at the time of the search in contravention of MCL 780.654; MSA 28.1259(4). The trial court noted that the issuance and execution of the search warrant were "perfectly legitimate" under federal law. However, the court held that precedent from this Court required that evidence seized in the absence of full compliance with Michigan's statutory warrant provisions be suppressed in a state prosecution. Accordingly, the trial court entered an order suppressing the firearms and dismissing the case.

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed. 238 Mich.App. 495, 496-504, 606 N.W.2d 658 (1999). In the lead opinion, Judge Hoekstra noted first that, pursuant to People v. Paladino, 204 Mich.App. 505, 507-508, 516 N.W.2d 113 (1994), in a joint operation between the state and federal governments, state law governs the validity of a search warrant in state court proceedings. Judge Hoekstra next opined that, although two panels of the Court of Appeals had recently held that a failure by law enforcement officers to comply with the statutory requirement to attach a copy of the affidavit to the copy of the warrant provided to the defendant does not require suppression of evidence seized pursuant to the warrant,5 those decisions conflicted with this Court's holding in People v. Moten, 233 Mich. 169, 206 N.W. 506 (1925).6 Judge Hoekstra concluded that, because Moten had not been overturned, the Court of Appeals was constrained to hold that, where a warrant relies on an attached affidavit for its statement of probable cause and that affidavit is not attached to the warrant as statutorily required, the evidence seized pursuant to the warrant is inadmissible. However, Judge Hoekstra indicated his disagreement with the Moten holding:

While this particular statutory provision generally relates to a constitutional right, the specific portion of the statute requiring a recitation of the basis for probable cause or the attachment of the affidavit only barely relates to the substantive right the Legislature is seeking to protect. The requirement is more of a ministerial duty than a right. Consequently, were I able, I would hold that defendant must show some prejudice before the trial court suppresses the evidence seized using a statutorily defective warrant. In this case, for example, defendant was eventually afforded a chance to contest the basis for the warrant. I am unable to see how defendant was put at a disadvantage by being forced to delay her arguments until the parties obtained a copy of the federal affidavit. I think it is especially important that defendant be forced to show some level of prejudice given that the warrant met all the requirements of the federal warrant statute. Here, I find it necessary to exclude the evidence in question because the state warrant requirements differ from federal warrant requirements. Neither party has argued that the federal warrant requirements are unconstitutional, so it seems that I am forced to declare a search invalid because the ministerial duties associated with executing a federal warrant differ from those associated with executing a state warrant, a result I hope our Supreme Court will find equally unsettling. [238 Mich.App. at 503-504, 606 N.W.2d 658.]

Judge Cavanagh concurred only in the result. 238 Mich.App. at 504, 606 N.W.2d 658.

Judge Gage dissented, opining that the Court of Appeals decisions in People v. Garvin, 235 Mich.App. 90, 597 N.W.2d 194 (1999), and People v. Pipok (After Remand), 191 Mich.App. 669, 479 N.W.2d 359 (1991), controlled this case, and that this case was distinguishable from Moten. While the statute in effect at the time Moten was decided required that the search warrant itself contain a recitation of the affidavit's statement of probable cause, Judge Gage noted, the current statute allows instead the attachment of the affidavit to the search warrant. In light of this statutory amendment, Judge Gage stated she would hold that Moten was not controlling, and that suppression of the firearms in this case was not required because defendant had failed to demonstrate that she was prejudiced as a result of the "technical, nonconstitutional" statutory violation. 238 Mich.App. 495, 504-508, 606 N.W.2d 658.

We granted the prosecution's application for leave to appeal,7 and we now reverse.


This Court reviews a trial court's ruling regarding a motion to suppress for clear error. People v. Stevens (After Remand), 460 Mich. 626, 631, 597 N.W.2d 53 (1999); People v. Burrell, 417 Mich. 439, 448, 339 N.W.2d 403 (1983). However, questions of law relevant to the suppression issue are reviewed de novo. Stevens, supra at 631, 597 N.W.2d 53; see also People v. Sierb, 456 Mich. 519, 522, 581 N.W.2d 219 (1998).

Where violation of a state statute is involved, "`[w]hether suppression is appropriate is a question of statutory interpretation and thus one of legislative intent.'" Stevens, supra at 644, 597 N.W.2d 53, quoting People v. Wood, 450 Mich. 399, 408, 538 N.W.2d 351 (1995) (BOYLE, J., concurring). "`Because our judicial role precludes imposing different policy choices than those selected by the Legislature, our obligation is,...

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