Michigan Supreme Court unanimously rules in favor of Kent Co. deputies in pot butter case

Posted at 7:31 PM, Jun 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-02 16:51:04-04

LANSING, Mich. -- Justices of the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously ruled the "knock-and-talks" used against two former Kent County deputies to search and seize their property, including marijuana butter, were illegal. This high court opinion has statewide implications affecting everyone and further defines Fourth Amendment rights: police cannot come to a home to talk, without a warrant, outside of normal waking hours.

The opinion issued Thursday reverses the Court of Appeals' opinion in the cases and remands them back to the Kent County Circuit Court.

Read the Michigan Supreme Court's opinion in full here

FOX 17 cameras exclusively covered when the state Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in the cases in March 2017.

Mike Frederick (left) and Todd Van Doorne (right), former Kent County correctional officers. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled the 'knock-and-talk' used in their cases was unconstitutional.

Todd Van Doorne and Michael Frederick are former Kent County jail deputies of up to 23 years, and now defendants of more than three years. Van Doorne's Defense Attorney Bruce Block says this knock-and-talk was "always wrong."

"I am truly elated because this affects all of us," said Block.

"I was very pleased. I think the rule of law triumphed here in that a person’s house is still his castle. You can live there, you can eat there and you can yes, even sleep there, without being worried about police coming in at inappropriate times."

March 18, 2014, at around 4:00 a.m. then 5:30 a.m., seven Kent Area Narcotics Enforcement Team officers, including two superiors, dressed in tactical gear and went to the family homes of Frederick then Van Doorne. They conducted a so-called knock-and-talk, without a warrant, on suspicion of marijuana butter. Asking to search their homes, Frederick and Van Doorne consented to their then superiors, and officers searched and seized marijuana products from the medical marijuana card-carrying patients.

"It’s really more of an oppressive type of tactic," said Block. "I know probably in their minds they were thinking they were doing them a favor; this wasn’t a favor I don’t think. This was a very traumatic event."

Major underlying questions in this case included: were their constitutional rights violated, and could they have said 'no' to their superiors asking them to talk on their doorsteps given the circumstances early that morning?

The seven Michigan Supreme Court justices ruled this pre-dawn knock-and-talk was unconstitutional writing: the KANET officers trespassed before dawn, and conducted warrantless searches on Fourth-Amendment-protected property. What the justices did not decide is whether the consent Frederick and Van Doorne signed that morning in 2014 was legitimate or coerced.

The is the Michigan Supreme Court's conclusion:

"A proper application of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence requires us to reverse
the Court of Appeals. Because these knock and talks were outside the scope of the
implied license, the officers trespassed on Fourth-Amendment-protected property. And
because the officers trespassed while seeking information, they performed illegal
searches. Finally, because of these illegal searches, the defendants’ consent—even if
voluntary—is nonetheless invalid unless it was sufficiently attenuated from the illegality.
We therefore reverse the Court of Appeals and remand these cases to the Kent Circuit
Court to determine whether the defendants’ consent to search was attenuated from the
officers’ illegal search."

Investigators had seized marijuana butter which led to a string of drug charges including marijuana possession, delivery, and maintaining a drug house. One sergeant charged took his life before his sentencing.

Now Frederick and Van Doorne's cases are sent back to Kent County Circuit Court, where a judge will determine if their consent is valid, and thus if the evidence is thrown out. According to the opinion, this judge will determine: "whether the defendants' consent to search was attenuated from the officers' illegal search."

"Now the judge will have to determine was there this attenuation, this separation, this interval," said Block, "was there some type of an intervening event that somehow makes the consent valid."

Stay with FOX 17 for further developments.