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People v. Maggit

Court of Appeals of Michigan

May 30, 2017

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
DEMETRIUS TERRELL MAGGIT, Defendant-Appellee,

         Kent Circuit Court LC No. 16-004364-FH

          Before: Beckering, P.J., and Markey and Shapiro, JJ.

          Per Curiam.

         In this interlocutory appeal, the prosecution appeals by leave granted the trial court's order granting defendant Demetrius Terrell Maggit's motion to suppress his statements and physical evidence obtained following his seizure and subsequent search by police. We affirm the trial court's ruling.

         I. PERTINENT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Defendant is currently charged with possession of a controlled substance analogue (Clonazepam), MCL 333.7403(2)(b)(ii), resisting and obstructing, MCL 750.81d(1), and possession with intent to distribute an imitation controlled substance, MCL 333.7341(3). The charges arose out of an incident that began in a parking lot located at 101 Sheldon in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At approximately 10:00 a.m. on or about April 27, 2016, the Grand Rapids police officer involved was positioned behind a van in an adjacent parking lot across the street. The officer had worked in the neighborhood for the past four years and was watching the parking lot because it was known for drug sales and use. The parking lot primarily serves two establishments, the Cherry Street Dental Clinic and Dwelling Place. According to the officer, the owners of those establishments had concerns about the illegal activities that occurred in the parking lot and "the management from Dwelling Place has signed a letter of intent to prosecute trespassers" as a result of those concerns. The letter was kept on file with the Grand Rapids Police Department and was not generally known to the public.

         The morning of the incident was sunny, and the parking lot had frequent traffic that day. In addition, the establishments that used the parking lot were open for business to the public. The police officer observed two men-one of whom was later identified to be defendant-walk to the parking lot from an adjacent sidewalk. The men did not walk toward the only door that led to Dwelling Place or the dental clinic. Instead, they walked toward the rear corner of the parking lot where there was no door. Neither man attempted to move toward any of the cars in the parking lot. The officer opined that the path the men traversed would have taken them "a little more than a car length" from a no-trespassing sign located in the center of the parking lot. Based on his experience in that neighborhood and other drug transactions he had witnessed, the officer suspected "that there was an exchange" of narcotics between the two men. However, given his positioning across the street, the officer could only see that the two men were standing next to each other in the parking lot, and he could not see whether they engaged in any type of narcotics transaction.

         Defendant and the other man left the parking lot and returned to the sidewalk. They then began walking south on the sidewalk toward Cherry Street. At that point, the officer notified dispatch that he was "going to be stopping two that were trespassing" and that he needed backup.[1] The officer approached the men from behind, identified himself as a police officer, and told them, "you have to stop." Brown complied with the command, but defendant continued to walk. Thereafter, defendant was told, "[T]his is the police, you have to stop. You are under arrest for trespassing." (Emphasis added). The officer testified that he decided "to go hands-on" with defendant, and he told defendant to place his hands on the top of his head so that he could handcuff defendant. Defendant raised his hands to be handcuffed. As the officer reached for his handcuffs, defendant turned and ran back to the parking lot, where he ran down a set of stairs at the back of the lot that enter onto 106 South Division.

         The officer briefly pursued defendant, but eventually gave way to two other officers who were coming to the area because of his request for backup. The record is not entirely clear, and the details come primarily from the parties' written submissions to the trial court, but it appears that the other officers eventually caught defendant and that some sort of struggle ensued. Also at some point-again, it is not entirely clear based on the evidence presented at the suppression hearing-defendant dropped or discarded a white container with 14 green pills inside of it. In addition, the other officers searched defendant and found bags containing an unknown substance or substances that tested negative for any controlled substances.

         After the other officers arrested defendant, they took him back to the initial officer, who had detained Brown. At this point, the officers ran defendant's name through the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN), and they discovered that he had an outstanding arrest warrant for "Absconding parole." Until that time, the officers did not know who defendant was or that he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. In a written opinion and order, the trial court found-and the prosecution has not contested this finding-that by the time the officers discovered the valid arrest warrant, they had already arrested and seized defendant. That is, the discovery of the warrant came after the search and seizure in this case.

         Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence. At issue in the motion was whether the police officer's seizure and attempted arrest[2] of defendant were lawful and whether the exclusionary rule should apply to the evidence seized in this case. The trial court granted the motion.

         II. WAS THERE AN UNREASONABLE SEARCH AND SEIZURE?

         A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "This Court reviews a trial court's factual findings at a suppression hearing for clear error, and the court's ultimate ruling de novo." People v Cohen, 294 Mich.App. 70, 74; 816 N.W.2d 474 (2011).

         B. ANALYSIS

         "US Const, Am IV, and Const 1963, art 1, § 11, guarantee the right of the people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures." People v Brown, 279 Mich.App. 116, 130; 755 N.W.2d 664 (2008). At the heart of any issues concerning the constitutional guarantee is reasonableness. People v Williams, 472 Mich. 308, 314; 696 N.W.2d 636 (2005). A search and seizure conducted without a warrant are unreasonable per se, subject to certain exceptions. Brown, 279 Mich.App. at 131. One well-recognized exception is that "[a] custodial arrest based on probable cause is not an unreasonable intrusion under the Fourth Amendment." People v Nguyen, 305 Mich.App. 740, 751; 854 N.W.2d 223 (2014). Moreover, if an arrest is lawful, i.e., based on probable cause, any search incident to that arrest is lawful as well. Id. at 756

         "This probable cause standard 'is a practical, nontechnical conception' judged from the totality of the circumstances before the arresting officers." Cohen, 294 Mich.App. at 75, quoting Maryland v Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 370; 124 S.Ct. 795; 157 L.Ed.2d 769 (2003). "Probable cause to arrest exists where the facts and circumstances within an officer's knowledge and of which he has reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed." People v Champion, 452 Mich. 92, 115; 549 N.W.2d 849 (1996).[3] In determining whether probable cause existed, a reviewing court is to make an objective inquiry based on the facts and circumstances of the case, and a police officer's subjective characterization of the events is not controlling. Nguyen, 305 Mich.App. at 758.

         The issue as the prosecution has presented it in this case is whether the police officer had probable cause to arrest defendant for violating a Grand Rapids city ordinance prohibiting trespassing when he first approached defendant.[4] The ordinance declares, in relevant part, that that no person shall "[t]respass upon the premises of another or unlawfully remain upon the premises of another to the annoyance or disturbance of the lawful occupants." Grand Rapids Ordinance, § 9.133(1). This Court interprets ordinances in the same manner it interprets statutes, People of Grand Rapids v Gasper, 314 Mich.App. 528, 536; 888 N.W.2d 116 (2016), meaning that it begins, and ends, with the plain language of the ordinance in order to ascertain the ordinance's meaning, see People v Williams, 288 Mich.App. 67, 83; 792 N.W.2d 384 (2010). The ordinance at issue contains two prohibitions: (1) a prohibition on "trespassing"; and (2) a prohibition against "unlawfully remain[ing]" on land "to the annoyance or disturbance of the lawful occupants." The prosecution does not raise an argument about the first prohibition, i.e., the undefined term of "trespass"; instead, the prosecution argues that the officer had probable cause to believe defendant violated the second part of the ordinance-remaining at 101 Sheldon to the annoyance or disturbance of the lawful occupants.

         We agree with the trial court's conclusion that there was no probable cause to arrest defendant for trespassing at 101 Sheldon under the city ordinance against trespassing. The evidence produced at the suppression hearing reveals that defendant was on property that was open to the public, during business hours, for a very brief period of time. During that brief time, no indication was given that defendant was told to leave or that he annoyed or disturbed anyone. The officer testified that he did not have any prior contact with, or knowledge of, defendant, nor did he have knowledge that anyone at 101 Sheldon ever gave any indication that defendant was not welcome there. The plain language of the ordinance states that a violation occurs when one: (1) remains on the property; and (2) does so to the annoyance or disturbance of the lawful occupants. On the evidence presented at the suppression hearing, there is no indication that a lawful occupant of the property was annoyed or disturbed by defendant's presence. Indeed, there is no testimony that anyone-other than Brown-had any type of communication with defendant while he was on the property. And again, there is no evidence that defendant had previously been told not to enter the property. As such, the facts as they were known gave no indication that defendant annoyed or disturbed anyone, much less that he remained at 101 Sheldon after annoying or disturbing a lawful occupant.

         The fact that the officer knew the parking lot at 101 Sheldon was often used for illegal drug transactions and other illicit purposes does not change the analysis.[5] Although a drug transaction would likely annoy or disturb the lawful occupants of 101 Sheldon, there was no evidence that any lawful occupant on the property-the subject officer was not on the property at the time-was annoyed or disturbed by anything that occurred in this case. Further, there was scant evidence for a reasonable officer to believe that defendant and Brown had engaged in such a transaction. The two men merely stood in a corner of the parking lot for a short period of time. In addition, even assuming that this could satisfy the requirement of "annoyance or disturbance, " there is no evidence, and the prosecution has not articulated an argument in this regard, that the men "remained" upon the premises in violation of the ordinance. According to the only evidence presented at the suppression hearing, the men were in the parking lot for a very brief time and they left immediately after standing together. In fact, they had already left the parking lot before the officer had a chance to approach them.

         In arguing that probable cause existed, the prosecution cites a "no-trespassing letter" signed by one of the occupants of 101 Sheldon as well as the no-trespassing sign in the parking lot. Essentially, the prosecution contends that the no-trespassing letter informed the Grand Rapids Police Department that the lawful property owners at 101 Sheldon were annoyed and disturbed by illegal activity occurring in the parking lot and that the no-trespassing sign on the property communicated as much to all who entered the property, including defendant. In other words, according to the prosecution, police had the unilateral authority to revoke defendant's permission to be on the property and to arrest defendant without telling defendant that he was not welcome on the property. This argument is unconvincing. Initially, as the trial court recognized in this case, the no-trespassing letter does not create or establish an element of the trespassing ordinance; it merely grants authorization to police officers to ask occupants of the parking lot to leave the parking lot. In this regard, the letter contains an express authorization allowing "the GRPD to ask unauthorized persons to ...


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