People v. Perreault – Searching a vehicle on school groundsPosted on February 9th, 2010 No comments
This is a published opinion that was issued last month (January 19, 2010). I did not report on it earlier because it was classified as a criminal case on the e-journal, so I missed it. The young defendant in this case was charged as an adult, but the issue in the case dealt with a search on school grounds, which makes it appropriate for this blog.
This case arose out of the search of a student’s vehicle in the school parking lot based on an tip received from an anonymous tip hotline. The defendant was simply described as a male Caucasian junior who sells marijuana “from school, his truck, and East Bade [sic] Park in Traverse city.” A week after receiving the tip, the school’s assistant principal searched the vehicle, while being observed by the school’s liaison officer and some other school officials. The defendant was present for the search, but did not consent to it. The assistant principal discovered a bag of marijuana behind a seat in the vehicle and the defendant was arrested.
Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence as fruit of an unconstitutional search. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the anonymous tip alone was sufficient to constitute reasonable suspicion, given the level of detail in the tip.
It is important to note the difference between a search by a school official and a police officer. The police may search a motor vehicle without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime may be found therein. People v Kazmierczak, 461 Mich 411, 418-419; 605 NW2d 667 (2000). However, school officials may search a student’s person or property on school premises on the lesser standard of reasonable suspicion. See New Jersey v TLO, 469 US 325, 341-342; 105 S Ct 733; 83 L Ed 2d 720 (1985).
The Court analyzed the search under the lower “reasonable suspicion” standard and did not express an opinion regarding whether the presence of the officer raised the standard. Reasonable suspicion requires “articulable reasons” and “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person . . . of criminal activity.” United States v Cortez, 449 US 411, 417-418; 101 S Ct 690; 66 L Ed 2d 621 (1981). In “a case involving an anonymous tipster,” whether reasonable suspicion exists “must be tested under the totality of the circumstances with a view to the question whether the tip carries with it sufficient indicia of reliability to support a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” People v Faucett, 442 Mich 153, 169; 499 NW2d 764 (1993) (emphasis in original), citing Alabama v White, 496 US 325;110 S Ct 2412; 110 L Ed 2d 301 (1990). An anonymous tip can provide reasonable suspicion if it is considered along with a “totality of circumstances” that show the tip to be reliable. But alone, without any “‘indicia of reliability’” or “‘means to test the informant’s knowledge or credibility’” an anonymous tip is generally insufficient. People v Horton, 283 Mich App 105, 113-114; 767 NW2d 672 (2009), citing and quoting Florida v J L, 529 US 266, 271-272, 274; 120 S Ct 1375; 146 L Ed 2d 254 (2000).
In this case, the anonymous tip was the only basis for the search. The Court held the tip alone could not be viewed under the totality of the circumstances because there were no other circumstances outside the tip. The Court also held that the tip itself was vague. Thus, the anonymous tip alone was insufficient to support a reasonable suspicion. The Court reversed and ordered the evidence suppressed.
Judge O’Connell dissented indicating that the tip, considered in its entirety, was sufficiently detailed to provide indicia of reliability. He did not share the majority’s view that “corroborating circumstances” outside of the tip must be present for an anonymous tip to be considered reliable.
This case is instructive for any search on school premises.
You can view or download the case here:
© 2010, Melinda Deel. All rights reserved.