People v. Vaughn

Decision Date01 December 2022
Docket Number356400,356402
PartiesPEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. DION LAMARR VAUGHN, Defendant-Appellee. PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BRYAN DOUGLAS VAUGHN, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Wayne Circuit Court LC Nos. 19-000788-01-FH, 19-000788-02-FH

Before: Ronayne Krause, P.J., and Jansen and Murray, JJ.


In this consolidated appeal,[1] the prosecutor appeals as of right the orders dismissing charges against defendants, Dion Lamarr Vaughn and Bryan Douglas Vaughn, of four counts each of receiving and concealing a stolen motor vehicle, MCL 750.535(7), and one count each of operating a chop shop, MCL 750.535a(2). In both cases, the trial court dismissed the charges, with prejudice, on defendants' renewed motion to suppress evidence. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.


This appeal involves the warrantless entry and search of Gratiot Collision Service and Automotive Custom Paint Specialist on December 21, 2018. On that Friday afternoon at approximately 1:00 p.m., six Commercial Auto Theft Unit (CATS) officers of the Detroit Police Department went to Gratiot Collision to conduct a business inspection under the Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Act (MVSRA), MCL 257.1301 et seq. When the officers arrived, the door was locked and defendant Bryan Vaughn came to the door and told the officers the business was closed. When Sergeant Shaun Dunning showed Bryan his badge, Bryan opened the door and allowed the officers to come inside. Bryan told officers he was an employee of the shop and that his brother, defendant Dion Vaughn, was the owner. Dion was also present at the location and, according to Dunning, had just been spray-painting a vehicle when officers entered the premises.

Officers asked Dion to produce paperwork required to be maintained under the MVSRA, including the state business license occupancy permit, major component parts book, and invoices for all cars on the premises. The only items Dion was able to produce were an expired state business license and an expired occupancy license. In other words, he produced no complying documents.

Dunning and other officers then went outside, where they encountered a gated and locked lot containing approximately 40 vehicles.[2] Bryan said he had a key to the locked area, and Dunning instructed him to unlock the gate. Officers peered into cars in the lot to find Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), which were visible through the driver-side window, and began running VINs through the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) system to determine if any of the vehicles were stolen. After checking a number of vehicles, one of the officers found a 2006 Monte Carlo, located at the back of the lot, which was registered as stolen in LEIN. Based on this discovery, a search warrant was sought and obtained to search the premises. When executing the search warrant, officers found four other vehicles that were flagged as stolen. Defendants were each charged and bound over on four counts of receiving and concealing a stolen motor vehicle, MCL 750.535(7), and one count each of operating a chop shop, MCL 750.535a(2).

Dion's attorney filed, on behalf of both defendants, a motion to suppress evidence. With respect to that motion, defendants argued the evidence seized by police during the search of Gratiot Collision should be suppressed because the officers lacked probable cause of wrongdoing to search the locked and gated lot, and absent probable cause, the warrantless search was improper and in violation of defendants' rights under the Michigan and United States Constitutions. U.S. Const, Am IV; Const 1963, art 1, § 11.

The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion, in which the trial court heard testimony from Officer Burke, who prepared the search warrant, and defendants. The trial court also had available to it the preliminary exam transcript, where several other officers testified to the inspection and subsequent search executed after obtaining the search warrant. In closing, defendants argued that the officers lacked the authority to enter the locked and gated lot under the guise of a business inspection. Defendants also argued that officers only came to inspect Gratiot Collision because of a "hunch" by Dunning that stolen property might be on-site; officers had no probable cause or reasonable suspicion that Gratiot Collision would possess stolen vehicles or parts. Defendants also noted that the shop was not "up and running in the normal course of business[,]" as required by statute, because defendants testified the shop was closed when officers arrived. According to defendants, when officers discovered Dion had not kept appropriate documents and licenses on site, a civil infraction should have been issued, and the criminal investigation involving the search of the gated lot was improper.

The prosecution argued in closing that consent was not required for the officers to search the business under the authority granted by statute, and the warrant challenged by defendants, and obtained after the stolen Monte Carlo was discovered, was proper on its face. The trial court, Judge Bridget M. Hathaway presiding, denied defendants' motion to suppress the evidence, concluding that officers were entitled by statute to conduct an unannounced inspection of the premises of Gratiot Collision, and officers acted reasonably in searching the lot when defendants could produce no required records.

Although the trial was scheduled to begin in September 2019, the case was instead administratively transferred to Judge Tracey E. Green. Defendants then moved for reconsideration of their motions to suppress, arguing that the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in United States v Grey, 959 F.3d 1166 (CA 9, 2020), had recently affirmed a district court's grant of a motion to suppress, holding that the execution of an administrative warrant violated the Fourth Amendment because it was used as a pretext to gather evidence to support a criminal investigation. Under Grey, defendants argued, the warrantless search was improper and could not be considered an administrative search.[3] The prosecution did not file a response. At the hearing, defendants also argued that (1) the Detroit Police had no authority to conduct the business inspection under the MVSRA, which requires an investigator from the Secretary of State to be present, and (2) the scope of the MVSRA was limited to a search for papers and documentation, and the officers exceeded that scope by searching a gated lot where they admit there were no documents to be found. The prosecution responded at the hearing that Grey was not binding and should not be considered instructive, and because Gratiot Collision's paperwork was not in order, the officers had sufficient suspicion of criminal activity for a warrantless search of the gated lot.

The trial court granted defendants' motion, concluding that the search exceeded the scope of the MVSRA, which only authorized officers to inspect "the premises, parts records, and parts inventories of a facility," and of MCL 257.1318, which narrows the scope to business records. Because the officers entered the gated lot in search of criminal activity, not business records, the search of the lot was improper. The trial court entered orders dismissing all charges against defendants with prejudice.


"In order to properly preserve an issue for appeal, a [party] must raise objections at a time when the trial court has an opportunity to correct the error . . . ." People v Pipes, 475 Mich. 267, 277; 715 N.W.2d 290 (2006) (quotation marks omitted). Whether the warrantless search was unlawful as a violation of defendants' Fourth Amendment protections was argued extensively in the trial court and is preserved for appellate review.

Findings of fact made after a suppression hearing are reviewed for clear error, while the ultimate decision on a motion to suppress is reviewed de novo. People v Rodriguez, 327 Mich.App. 573, 583; 935 N.W.2d 51 (2019)." 'A finding is clearly erroneous if it leaves this Court with a definite and firm conviction that the trial court made a mistake.'" Id., quoting People v Dillon, 296 Mich.App. 506, 508; 822 N.W.2d 611 (2012).

The interpretation of a statute or court rule is a question of law that we review de novo. People v Olney (On Remand), 333 Mich.App. 575, 580; 963 N.W.2d 383 (2020); People v Clement, 254 Mich.App. 387, 389-390; 657 N.W.2d 172 (2002). "The goal when interpreting statutes is to give effect to legislative intent by examining the plain language of the words of the statute." Olney, at 581. Unambiguous language in a statute must be enforced as written. Id. These same rules apply to the interpretation of the court rules. Ligons v Crittenton Hosp, 490 Mich. 61, 70; 803 N.W.2d 271 (2011).


The prosecution contends that the trial court erred when it granted defendants' renewed motion to suppress evidence because repair shops like Gratiot Collision are closely regulated, and the MVSRA is an administrative statute permitting the warrantless inspection of the premises, including the inspection of the gated and locked lot. To resolve this argument, we must consider well-established constitutional principles regarding searches of heavily regulated businesses, as well as those portions of the MVSRA that authorize inspections.


"The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and its counterpart in the Michigan Constitution guarantee the right of persons to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures." Rodriguez, ...

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