People v. White, 7

Decision Date06 September 1974
Docket NumberNo. 7,7
Citation392 Mich. 404,221 N.W.2d 357
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. James WHITE, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

William L. Cahalan, Pros. Atty., Dominick R. Carnovale, Chief, Appellate Dept., Robert A. Reuther, Asst. Pros. Atty., Detroit, for plaintiff-appellee.

State Appellate Defender Office by Michael C. Moran, Asst. Defender, Detroit, for defendant-appellant.

Before the Entire Bench (except LEVIN and FITZGERALD, JJ.)

SWAINSON, Justice.

A DSR bus driver named Lucian Fryling was fatally wounded during the night of November 18, 1964, at LaSalle Boulevard and Webb in the City of Detroit. Two eyewitnesses saw a man hurrying away from the bus after the shooting but they were not able to see the man's face.

One week later, on November 25, 1964, the police received information from a Joe Smith which led them to seek Dan Johnson, the informer and principal witness in this case. When Johnson learned that the police were looking for him, he reported to the precinct station. After being interviewed by the detectives in charge of the investigation, Johnson made a statement at approximately 12:30 a.m. on November 26 (Thanksgiving Day), 1964.

At the trial Johnson testified that he and appellant had gone to the scene where the killing occurred on four or five occasions to watch the buses and to plan the robbery of a bus driver. On the afternoon of November 18, 1964, the day of the shooting, they had discussed robbing a driver. The meeting took place in appellant's car and a third person, Bill Smith,* was present. Johnson claimed the did not see appellant again that day. Johnson identified a gun found in the trunk of appellant's automobile shortly after he was arrested as the gun he had seen in appellant's bedroom one month before the killing, and said that appellant sometimes kept the gun in the trunk of his automobile. Both Johnson and the police testified that Johnson had told the police on the morning of November 26 everything he was then relating on the stand.

Acting on the information supplied by Johnson and without a warrant the police immediately went to appellant's apartment arriving at 2:15 a.m., November 26. The police officers knocked on the door. When appellant asked who it was, one of then replied that it was Jimmy Edwards. Appellant opened the door a crack and the police pushed their way into his apartment and arrested him.

After appellant was under their control, the police searched the apartment but did not find a handgun. The police then took appellant's keys and searched his car, which was parked on the street in front of his apartment house. A handgun was discovered in the car's trunk and was seized by the police.

Appellant was taken to police headquarters sometime before 4 a.m. on the morning of the 26th. He was not taken before a judicial officer for arraignment until 2 p.m. on the afternoon of the 27th. In the interim defendant was questioned several times and confronted with the handgun seized from his car and with Johnson's statement implicating appellant in the murder of the DSR bus driver. According to the police, appellant made four unsigned statements during this period.

Appellant made unsuccessful pretrial motions to suppress the admission of the gun and his unsigned statements. He was subsequently tried and convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction in a per curiam opinion dated June 28, 1972, and this Court granted leave to appeal, 388 Mich. 780 (1972). 1

In this appeal we focus on appellant's two primary allegations of error.

1. Was the warrantless search of appellant's car, which was parked on the street in front of the apartment in which appellant was arrested, made in violation of the State and/or Federal constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable civil search and seizure?

2. Did the delay in appellant's arraignment and the nature of the interrogation process render appellant's statements inadmissible at trial?


Whenever the police intrude into a sphere of protected privacy without the prior authorization of a warrant issued by a neutral judicial officer, their conduct is subject to careful scrutiny by the courts. To sustain the validity of a warrantless search the burden rests on the People to demonstrate that the police acted in a reasonable manner, based on probable cause and in response to an exigent circumstance bringing the search under one of the specifically established exceptions to the warrant requirement. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 454--455, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971); People v. Mason, 22 Mich.App. 595, 616--617, 178 N.W.2d 181 (1970). If the People fail to meet this burden it is the duty of our courts to suppress the admission into evidence of any fruits of the unwarranted search. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961).

The first step we must take in reviewing the search of appellant's parked automobile and the resulting seizure of the handgun is to determine if the warrantless search arguably fits within one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. The People argue that the search was proper under what is generally described as the 'automobile exception' and it is to the consideration of this exception that we now turn. 2

The perimeters of the automobile exception have not been definitively established by the United States Supreme Court or by our state's courts. From the early leading case of Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543 (1925) to more recent cases such as Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 90 S.Ct. 1975, 26 L.Ed.2d 419 (1970) and Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 29 L.Ed.2d 564 (1971), the United States Supreme Court has resolved each case narrowly on its own facts based on the interrelated concepts of reasonableness and probable cause. Each new situation thus requires the courts to reflect on the rationale underlying the exception and to adopt the teaching of the prior cases to the facts of the case at bar. Cf. Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 439, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 2527, 37 L.Ed.2d 706, 713 (1973).

In Carroll v. United States, Supra, the Supreme Court initially recognized that there were situations in which a warrantless search of an automobile would not violate the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. Appellant Carroll challenged the authority of federal agents to stop and search his automobile for the presence of illegal liquor under the National Prohibition Act. The Court considered both the primary goal of the act--to seize contraband liquor rather than to prosecute violations--and the fact that the agents had probable cause to believe that illegal liquor was being transported in Carroll's moving vehicle. In this limited context the Court stated:

'We have made a somewhat extended reference to * * * show that the guaranty of freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures by the Fourth Amendment has been construed * * * as recognizing a necessary difference between a search of a store, dwelling house or other structure in respect of which a proper official warrant readily may be obtained, and a search of a * * * automobile, for contraband goods, where it is not practicable to secure a warrant because the vehicle can be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought.' 267 U.S. 132, 153, 45 S.Ct. 280, 285.

The Carroll Court certainly did not see itself as eliminating the warrant requirement simply because the object to be searched was a mobile vehicle. It emphasized that: 'In cases where the securing of a warrant is reasonably practical, it must be used * * *'. 267 U.S. 132, 156, 45 S.Ct. 280, 286.

Again in 1949 the Court reviewed a situation involving the transportation of liquor contrary to law and upheld the search of defendant Brinegar's automobile after a highway stop on probable cause. Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 93 L.Ed. 1879 (1949). In the course of resolving the case before it, the Court repeated the narrow scope of the holding in Carroll.

'The Carroll decision held that, under the Fourth Amendment, a valid search of a vehicle moving on a public highway may be had without a warrant, but only if probable cause for the search exists.' 338 U.S. 160, 164, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 1305.

The Supreme Court first examined the warrantless search of a parked automobile in Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364, 84 S.Ct. 881, 11 L.Ed.2d 777 (1964). In Preston the facts reveal that the police received a complaint at 3:00 a.m. that three unidentified men were acting suspiciously and had been sitting in a parked car in a business district since 10:00 p.m. The police investigated the complaint and questioned the occupants of the car. The police then arrested the three men for vagrancy and had the automobile removed to a police garage. Later, they searched the car at the police garage and seized two loaded revolvers and other evidence that was used against Preston at his trial on charges of conspiracy to rob a federally insured bank.

Mr. Justice Black writing for the Court found the search of the automobile at the police garage to be unreasonable. At the time the occupants were arrested the police did not search incident to arrest nor did they have probable cause to search the vehicle itself. After the car was in police custody, there was no danger of its removal and therefore no circumstances making a warrantless search reasonable. Broadly interpreting the prior automobile exception cases, Justice Black wrote:

'Our cases make it clear that searches of motorcars must meet the test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment before evidence obtained as a result of such searches is admissible.' 376 U.S. 364, 366, 84 S.Ct. 881, 883.

See also, Cooper v. California, 386 U.S. 58, 59--60, 87 S.Ct. 788, 17 L.Ed.2d 730 (1967); Dyke v....

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