United States citizens are protected from unlawful search and seizure by the Fourth Amendment to the constitution. This amendment was put in place to protect privacy. Unfortunately, the boundaries between what constitutes lawful and unlawful search and seizure are sometimes difficult to define. An attorney may be able to provide assistance for Florida residents that have been the victims of unlawful search and seizure.
Reasonable Search and Seizure
Police have the legal authority to search a citizen’s property if a search warrant has been obtained, the owner of the property has consented to a search, or if illegal substances or weapons are in “plain sight.” If illegal drugs are being used and officers detect the scent, police may be able to seize the drugs and arrest the individual under the context of contraband being in “plain sight.” This may also apply if weapons or drugs are clearly visible through the window of a vehicle or home.
To obtain a search warrant, police must state valid reasons for probable cause. Police must provide information about the specific place that will be searched, the items that are being searched for, and the names of individuals that will be held accountable for the items. If police search areas other than those specified in the warrant or obtain items other than what was specified, evidence may be inadmissible.
Consented searches occur when an individual gives consent to search the vehicle or property. The consenting individual or property owner may be held accountable for any illegal weapons or substances that are found in a consenting search. Police are not required to inform individuals of the right to refuse a consented search, so police may continue to insist on searching a vehicle or property until an individual adheres.
Unreasonable Search and Seizure Defenses
In many cases, the reasons for probable cause that are used to obtain a warrant are contestable. Probable cause standards may vary widely between jurisdictions. A criminal defense attorney may file a “motion to suppress” in order to exclude illegally obtained evidence from a trial.
While a consented search is not unlawful, consent must be given freely. If it can be proven that a police officer used bribery, threats, or subjected the property owner to unnecessary duress, the search and seizure may be deemed unlawful. The officer may face penalties for this unethical behavior in addition to the exclusion of evidence obtained in this way.
In some cases, the individual that consented to have the property searched did not have the authority to give consent. This may occur if the person that allowed law enforcement into a home does not live in the home. Evidence obtained in this way may be considered inadmissible.
Fourth Amendment Violation
If a court determines that the Fourth Amendment has been violated, evidence obtained may not be admissible. The exclusionary rule, which was established in 1961, prevents police from using unlawfully obtained evidence. This rule was created in an attempt to dissuade police officers from using unethical tactics to gather evidence. However, a case may still be allowed to continue if there is enough evidence besides that which was obtained unlawfully.
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
In addition to evidence obtained through an unlawful search and seizure in Florida, any evidence obtained afterward stemming from the unlawful search may be inadmissible. This may dismantle an entire case. “Fruit of the poisonous tree” may also be considered any evidence gathered from illegal wiretaps or other violations of an individual’s constitutional rights.
Criminal Defense Attorney
It is very important for individuals to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney after an incident of unlawful search and seizure. Most unrepresented individuals that use a Fourth Amendment violation as a defense are unsuccessful. Proving an unlawful search and seizure may become complicated and requires very specific wording and filing. An experienced criminal defense attorney is well-versed in the ever-shifting laws surrounding unlawful search and seizure in Florida.
“2011 Florida Statutes.” The Florida Senate. State of Florida, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. <http://www.flsenate.gov/laws/statutes/2011/901.15>
Potts, Gary. “Insufficient Probable Cause – Anatomy of an Arrest in Florida, Part II.” HG.org Legal Resources. HG.org, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. <www.hg.org/article.asp?id=20704>
“The 2014 Florida Statutes.” Online Sunshine. The Florida Legislature, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. <http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0900-0999/0933/Sections/0933.19.html>