MI: Unreasonable interpretation of traffic law voids stop

Defendant and another person in cars from opposite directions stopped on a road with no other cars to chat [as in: police do that all the time, usually off the road, like at the EV charging station near my house]. The officer decided that he was impeding traffic and pursued him up his long driveway and blocked the car. The stop was made on an unreasonable mistake of law. It’s not impeding traffic when there’s no other traffic. The stop in defendant’s driveway led to admissions and observations that must be suppressed. People v. Lucynski, 2022 Mich. LEXIS 1363 (July 26, 2022). from the syllabus:

3. The Fourth Amendment is not violated if a police officer’s suspicion that the defendant’s conduct was illegal is based on an objectively reasonable mistake about what the law required. The subjective understanding of the particular officer involved is not examined. Objectively reasonable mistakes of law occur in exceedingly rare circumstances in which an officer must interpret an ambiguous statute. Additionally, while qualified immunity applies to officers so long as they have not violated a clearly established statutory right, the mistake-of-law doctrine is not as forgiving. In this case, to the extent that Robinson’s seizure of defendant was based on a belief that MCL 257.676b(1) was violated, Robinson’s mistake of law was not objectively reasonable. One cannot be guilty of violating MCL 257.676b(1) without evidence that the normal flow of actual traffic was disrupted, and Robinson admitted that no disruption had occurred. The Court of Appeals’ reliance on Salters was not persuasive. In Salters, the Court of Appeals based its holding entirely on the perceived purpose of MCL 257.676b(1) instead of also engaging with the text of the statute; the Court of Appeals in this case made the same error by failing to independently analyze MCL 257.676b(1). Additionally, Salters had not been cited or relied on for its conclusory interpretation of MCL 257.676b in any appellate decision in Michigan until the Court of Appeals’ decision in this case. A single unpublished decision coming out the other way does not transform an unambiguous statute into an ambiguous one.

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