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Michigan Supreme Court: Reaching Out Door of Home to Retrieve ID Inadequate to Surrender Fourth Amendment Rights

by David Reutter

The Supreme Court of Michigan held that a defendant did not expose herself to public arrest when she reached out of her doorway to retrieve her identification from a police officer — and there could be no “hot pursuit” when she pulled her arm back into the home.

Jennifer Hammerlund was involved in a single-vehicle accident in the wee hours of September 30, 2015. She called her insurance company and took a rideshare service home. She did not call police. Officer Erich Staman of the Wyoming Police Department reported to the scene, identified the car as Hammerlund’s, had the vehicle towed, and had Kentwood police officers report to Hammerlund’s home to conduct a welfare check.

When they arrived, Hammerlund was in bed, and her roommate answered the door. Hammerlund initially refused to leave her room, but with the officers’ threat to take her into custody and arrest her roommate for harboring a fugitive, Hammerlund came to the door.

Staman arrived to make contact, and it was “pretty clear that she wasn’t coming out of the home.” When he asked for Hammerlund’s ID, she had her roommate pass it to him. He refused to return it that way, and when Hammerlund reached out the door to retrieve her property, Staman grabbed her arm to make an arrest.

Hammerlund pulled her arm back, and Staman said the “momentum” pulled him into the house where he completed the arrest.

Hammerlund waived her Miranda rights and made statements about the crash, including that she had drunk alcohol. She subsequently was given breathalyzer tests and charged with her third offense for operating while intoxicated (“OWI”) and failing to report an accident resulting in damage to fixtures, a misdemeanor.

The trial court denied motions to dismiss the case and to suppress evidence as a result of an illegal, warrantless search. Hammerlund was convicted at trial and sentenced to five years’ probation and four months in jail on the OWI charge and a concurrent 60-day sentence on the failure to report charge. She appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed.

The Michigan Supreme Court noted that the Fourth Amendment permits an arrest without a warrant in a public place if the officer possesses sufficient probable cause. Here, Officer Staman had cause to make an arrest for failing to report an accident that caused damage to fixtures.

While he had cause to make a warrantless public arrest, “the same is not true when it comes to arresting a suspect in her home,” stated the Court. It explained that Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980), requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant or identify exigent circumstances that excuse the warrant requirement before entering a home to make an arrest. Payton instructs that even when there is probable cause for a search or seizure, doing so without a warrant inside a suspect’s home is presumptively unreasonable.

The trial court found that Hammerlund was subject to public arrest because she “reached out of her door” with a portion of her arm. The high court said it would not focus on an arbitrary determination of how far she reached out because “our focus remains on determining whether a person sought to preserve her constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Based on her actions, the Court concluded that Hammerlund’s behavior “made clear that she was carefully preserving her expectation of privacy.” The Court explained that her “expectation of privacy within her home was reasonable, and her action of reaching out over the threshold and retrieving her identification did not relinquish that reasonable expectation.”

The Court then turned to the issue of whether exigent circumstance were present to constitute “hot pursuit,” which would justify the warrantless intrusion into and arrest inside of Hammerlund’s home. “What makes the pursuit ‘hot’ is ‘the emergency nature of the situation,’ requiring police action,’” the Court explained, citing Smith v. Stoneburner, 716 F.3d 926 (6th Cir. 2013).

Hammerlund was “suspected of a 90-day misdemeanor and there was no evidence of that crime that she could destroy. Indeed, all the elements of the crime were already known to the police,” reasoned the Court. In fact, the Court stated that it could find no supporting precedent to arrest a misdemeanant suspect on a theory of hot pursuit.

At no point did Hammerlund expose herself to public arrest, and since the seizure occurred beyond the “firm line at the entrance to the house,” the arrest was unreasonable because it was accomplished without a warrant, without consent, and without any exigent circumstances, the Court concluded.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to determine if the exclusionary rule applies to suppress the evidence. See: People v. Hammerlund, 2019 Mich. LEXIS 1286 (2019). 

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