News, Culture and NPR for Central & Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
91.7FM Alpena and WCML-TV Channel 6 Alpena are off the air. Click here to learn more.

Mich. Supreme Court sets standard for when police can treat a person as a suspect

The Michigan Supreme Court
Rick Pluta
/
Michigan Public Radio Network
The Michigan Supreme Court

A Michigan Supreme Court decision issued Friday sets bright-line rules around the authority of police to stop and detain people who don’t agree to being questioned. In a split 5-2 ruling, the court struck down guilty verdicts and set a new standard on when police can treat a person as a suspect.

There’s no dispute that Douglas Prude fled from two Kalamazoo Police officers and was chased down after being told he was being detained. He was charged with, and convicted of, fleeing and resisting police. The question was whether the officers should have chased him in the first place.

Prude was questioned by two uniformed officers on May 30, 2019, in the parking lot of a housing complex that was a focus of law enforcement following a series of crimes. At one point, he asked if he was being detained. An officer said yes. At that point, Prude rolled up his car window and sped away.

Prude’s defense was the officers had no reasonable suspicion that he had committed a crime when they attempted to detain him, and he was, therefore, free to leave.

The Supreme Court majority held there was no legally justified reason for the officers to detain Prude, so he did not break the laws he was charged with.

“Even the most cursory warrantless seizure must be justified by an objectively reasonable particularized suspicion of criminal activity,” wrote Justice Megan Cavanagh in the majority opinion. The majority held that was true even under the legal standard applied in cases such as this which tends to favor the prosecution.

“Without more, there is nothing suspicious about a citizen sitting in a parked car in an apartment-complex parking lot while visiting a resident of that complex,” wrote Cavanagh. “Moreover, a citizen’s mere presence in an area of frequent criminal activity does not provide particularized suspicion that they were engaged in any criminal activity, and an officer may not detain a citizen simply because they decline a request to identify themselves.”

Defense attorney Michael Nichols, who was not part of the case, said the decision draws clearer lines around police powers in Michigan.

“What makes this so significant is you can’t just come to me and say, ‘high crime area, the person wouldn’t respond to me, and then the person took off when I told him to stop,’” he told Michigan Public Radio. “That’s not a unique set of circumstances. That’s happens a fair amount in the state of Michigan and, I’m sure, all over the country.”

Two of the court’s more conservative justices dissented. They agreed with the prosecution that the arrest and convictions should be considered constitutional based on the totality of the circumstances.

Justice David Viviano, dissenting, wrote that the lower courts correctly determined the officers had “reasonable suspicion that defendant was trespassing” and they were in a position to act on that.

“The officers in this case were very familiar with this particular apartment complex and had been there over a hundred times, including in the previous week, to investigate a full panoply of criminal activity,” he said.

The case now returns to the Kalamazoo County Circuit Court to enter an order that complies with the Michigan Supreme Court opinion. Attorneys for the defendant and Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
Related Content