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Michigan Supreme Court: Probation Compliance Check During Unlawfully Extended Probation Was Unauthorized Warrantless Search

The Supreme Court of Michigan ruled that a probation officer who found heroin during a compliance check after the probation had ended and then been unlawfully extended conducted an unauthorized warrantless search.

John D. Vandenpool was sentenced to two years of probation on June 24, 2013. On September 23, 2015, his probation officer petitioned the court to extend his probation until June 25, 2016, because he had been on “warrant status” during part of the probation and had not paid all of his fines and fees. The extension was granted.

On November 12, 2015, the probation officer applied for a warrant for Vanderpool because he had failed a drug screening. On December 3, 2015, he applied for another warrant because Vanderpool failed to show up for his weekly appointment at the probation office. The next day, the probation officer conducted a “compliance check” of Vanderpool’s home and found a small amount of heroin, which Vanderpool admitted was his. This led to Vanderpool’s prosecution for possession of under 25 grams of heroin.

Vanderpool filed a motion to suppress the heroin, which was denied. Vanderpool pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 18 months to eight years for possession of less than 25 grams of heroin, second offense, and 459 concurrent days for probation violation. His appeal resulted in a split decision, and he sought further review by the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court reviewed MCL 771.2(1), which caps probationary terms at five years; MCL 771.2(5), which authorizes a court to amend an order of probation “at any time;” and MCL 771.4, which gives a court the power to revoke probation “during the probation period.” MCL 771.5(1) requires a probation officer to report a probation’s pending termination “and the probationer’s conduct during the probation period to the court.” It states that, upon receiving the report, a court may discharge the probation and enter a judgment of suspended sentence or extend the probation period so long as it does not exceed five years. Further, MCL 771.6 requires a record of discharge.

The question was whether Vanderpool remained on parole because he failed to pay his fines and fees by the end of the two-year probation period, his probation officer failed to make a report by that time, the court did not discharge Vanderpool from probation, and no record of discharge was entered. The Court concluded that his period of probation terminated at the end of the initial two-year period.

A further question was whether MCL 771.2(5), which authorizes a court to amend an order of probation “in form or in substance” including the terms of probation “at any time,” means that a court can extend a term of probation after it has terminated. The Supreme Court ruled that it does not and clarified that a court can neither “extend” nor “amend” an order that had expired.

The Court concluded that termination of Vanderpool’s probation was not controlled by the failure of the probation officer and circuit court to carry out their obligations under statute. To hold otherwise would effectively convert all probationary terms to the statutory maximum of five years.

The Court held that, because he was not on probation, officers had no authority to enter Vanderpool’s home and conduct a warrantless search under the probation exception to the Fourth Amendment.

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Related legal case

People v. Vanderpool



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