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Florida Law Enforcement, Drones, And The Fourth Amendment

What does Florida Law say about Law Enforcement Officers using drones or unmanned aircraft to search property of Florida land owners?  Florida legislatures in their wisdom, during the 23rd Legislative session, and through the signature of Governor Rick Scott, provided all Floridians with preservation of freedom from unlawful 4th Amendment spying through unmanned drone use by law enforcement officers. But did they go far enough in protecting Floridians 4th Amendment Rights to unreasonable searches of their real property against drone abuses?

Florida Gen Stat. 934.50 prohibits use of drones or unmanned aircraft from gathering evidence or information from Floridians that does not purport with the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution. This means that drones or unmanned aircraft cannot be lawfully be flown indiscriminately over your “real property” with a mounted camera looking onto your property for criminal wrong doing, without the protections of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

There are three exceptions to this Florida drone use law.

The three exceptions listed under the Florida Drone Statute, when drones are used by law enforcement officers in search and seizures instances are: (i) to counter a high risk terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States Secretary of Homeland Security determines that credible intelligence indicates that there is such a risk; (ii) if the law enforcement officer or agency first gets a search warrant signed by a judge, authorizing “use of a drone” and (iii) if law enforcement possesses reasonable suspicion that under particular circumstances swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect, to prevent the destruction of evidence, or to achieve the purpose of facilitating a search for a missing person.

The first exception of the Florida drone search legislation is borne out from U.S. Congressional legislation and the implementation of Homeland Security after the attacks on America on September 11, 2001. While the attacks on America were in fact considered acts of War and sinister, the legislation that followed through the anti-terrorist laws, Homeland Security powers, and other State Laws like Florida’s drone laws, have chipped away at “People’s” rights under the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Under the theory of “terrorist” or “terrorism” the people of every state and here in Florida under the drone laws have again given away personal liberties.

The second exception as to when a drone may be deployed over a Floridians real property is in conformity with the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In particular, the second exception allows Law Enforcement to search Floridians real property but only after securing a properly issued search warrant from a detached magistrate.

The third and last exception of the Florida drone search law is also known as the “exigent” circumstances of the 4th Amendment. The appellate courts have come up with a body of law that is an exception to the 4th Amendment principle of getting a warrant before entering a person’s real property namely in cases of “exigent” nature. Exigent circumstances “appear to law enforcement officer” when they are called to a real property location, like a home, building, trailer, high fenced property and receive no response from the property owners or occupants after the police have been lawful summoned to the location in question. Law Enforcement Officers, in relying on the exception of “exigent” circumstances to circumvent the 4th Amendment must articulate why they acted in violation of the 4th Amendment, when they entered the real property without a warrant. Law Enforcement Officers will usually articulate that the owner or occupant was in danger of “seriously bodily injury or death” if they did not take immediate action. This immediate action by law enforcement officers is also reviewed by the courts on a standard known as the totality of circumstances standard, at the time the violation of the 4th Amendment occurred.

Lastly, any evidence obtained by law enforcement officers or police officers in violation of the Florida drone statute is prohibited from being used in court. So, the sanction built into the Florida drone law follows the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, as set out in the United States Supreme Court’s reasoning in Wong Sun.  There is also a civil penalty that law enforcement agency faces, if they collect unlawfully obtained evidence in violation of the Florida drone law, but that is beyond the scope of this legal publication.

If you or a loved one has been arrested or charged with a crime after a search of their person, automobile, home or communication systems contact a 4th Amendment criminal defense lawyer who will stand up for your rights to be free from unlawful searches and seizures by law enforcement officers and police.  West Palm Beach Criminal Lawyer Andrew D. Stine has been protecting Floridians rights to be free from law enforcement of police searches for over a decade. Contact Palm Beach Criminal Attorney Andrew D. Stine today for your free consultation. Hire Stine or Do the Time.

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