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Law School Case Brief

Michigan v. DeFillippo - 443 U.S. 31, 99 S. Ct. 2627 (1979)


"Probable cause" to justify an arrest means facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge that are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.


A Detroit, Michigan ordinance provided that a police officer could stop and question an individual if he had reasonable cause to believe that the individual's behavior warranted further investigation for criminal activity. The ordinance further provided that it was unlawful for any person so stopped to refuse to identify himself and produce evidence of his identity. Pursuant to the ordinance, Detroit police officers observed defendant Gary DeFillippo in an alley at 10 o'clock at night with a woman who was removing her slacks. The officers stopped him and requested him to identify himself; DeFillippo first told the officers that he was Sergeant Mash of the Detroit police force, and then told them he worked for or knew Sergeant Mash. In a search following the arrest, drugs were discovered on DeFillippo's person, and he was charged with possession of a controlled substance. DeFillippo was not, however, charged with violating the ordinance. Before trial in a Michigan state court for the drug offense, DeFillippo filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained in the search following his arrest. The trial court denied the motion. Allowing an interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals of Michigan reversed, holding that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and concluding that since DeFillippo had been arrested pursuant to the unconstitutional ordinance, both the arrest and the search were invalid. Consequently, the appellate court held that the evidence obtained in the search should have been suppressed. The State was granted a writ of certiorari.


Were DeFillippo's arrest and subsequent search of his person invalid due to the alleged unconstitutionality of the Detroit ordinance under which DeFillippo had been arrested?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the state appellate court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court held that DeFillippo's arrest, made in good-faith reliance on the Detroit ordinance, which at the time had not been declared unconstitutional, was valid regardless of the subsequent judicial determination of its unconstitutionality, and therefore the drugs obtained in the search should not have been suppressed. The Court noted that the Constitution permitted an officer to arrest a suspect without a warrant if there was probable cause to believe that the suspect had committed or was actively committing an offense. In the case at bar, the arresting officer had abundant probable cause to believe that DeFillippo's conduct violated the ordinance, i.e., DeFillippo's presence with a woman in the circumstances described clearly was behavior warranting further investigation under the ordinance, and DeFillippo's responses to the request for identification constituted a refusal to identify himself as the ordinance required. Under these circumstances, the arresting officer did not lack probable cause simply because he should have known the ordinance was invalid and would be judicially declared unconstitutional. A prudent officer, in the course of determining whether DeFillippo had committed an offense under such circumstances, should not have been required to anticipate that a court would later hold the ordinance unconstitutional. The Court concluded that since the arrest under the presumptively valid ordinance was valid, the search that followed was valid because it was incidental to that arrest.

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