Illegal Search and Seizure in Drug Cases
A deputy responded to a store in the 100 block of North Federal Highway to investigate a reported disturbance. When he asked a woman involved in the incident for identification, she opened her purse to get her license. In plain site was an open pill bottle containing crack cocaine and two white pills, which were identified as Percocet. She was arrested and taken to the county jail. Source
Law enforcement officers are entrusted with the power to conduct investigations, make arrests, perform searches and seizures of persons and their belongings, and occasionally use lethal force in the line of duty. But this power must be exercised within the boundaries of the law, and when police officers exceed those boundaries they jeopardize the admissibility of any evidence collected for prosecution. By and large, the Fourth Amendment and the case law interpreting it establish these boundaries.
The 4th Amendment to the U.S. constitution places limits on the power of the police to make arrests, search people and their property, and seize objects and contraband (such as illegal drugs or weapons).
The 4th Amendment: Protecting Your Privacy
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The search and seizure provisions of the Fourth Amendment are all about privacy. To honor this freedom, the Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable” searches and seizures by state or federal law enforcement authorities.
The flip side is that the Fourth Amendment does permit searches and seizures that are considered reasonable. In practice, this means that the police may override your privacy concerns and conduct a search of you, your home, barn, car, boat, office, personal or business documents, bank account records, trash barrel, or whatever, if:
the police have probable cause to believe they can find evidence that you committed a crime, and a judge issues a search warrant, or the particular circumstances justify the search without a warrant first being issued.
Under the Fourth Amendment, a seizure refers to the collection of evidence by law enforcement officials and to the arrest of persons. An arrest occurs when a police officer takes a person against his or her will for questioning or criminal prosecution. The general rule is that to make an arrest, the police must obtain an arrest warrant. However, if an officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and there is no time to obtain a warrant, the officer may make a warrantless arrest. Also, an officer may make a warrantless arrest of persons who commit a crime in the officer’s presence. An invalid arrest is not generally a defense to prosecution. However, if an arrest is unsupported by probable cause, evidence obtained pursuant to the invalid arrest may be excluded from trial.
The Search Warrant Requirement
A Search Warrant is a judicially approved document that authorizes law enforcement officials to search a particular place. To obtain a search warrant, a police officer must provide an account of information supporting probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place or places. The officer must also make a list of the particular places to be searched and the items sought. Finally, the officer must swear to the truthfulness of the information. The officer presents the information in an Affidavit to a magistrate or judge, who determines whether to approve the warrant.
An officer may search only the places where items identified in the search warrant may be found. For example, if the only item sought is a snowmobile, the officer may not rummage through desk drawers. Only the items listed in the warrant may be seized, unless other evidence of illegal activity is in plain view. Judges or magistrates may approve a variety of types of searches. The removal of blood from a person’s body, a search of body cavities, and even surgery may be approved for the gathering of evidence. Electronic Serveillance and phone records may also be used to gather evidence upon the issuance of a warrant.
A warrant is not required for a search incident to a lawful arrest, the seizure of items in plain view, a border search, a search effected in open fields, a vehicle search (except for the trunk), an inventory search of an impounded vehicle, and any search necessitated by exigent circumstances. It is also not required for a Stop and Frisk a limited search for weapons based on a reasonable suspicion that the subject has committed or is committing a crime. A police officer may also conduct a warrantless search if the subject consents. Source
West Palm Beach Drug Charges Attorney
At the law firm of Andrew D. Stine, P.A., in West Palm Beach, Florida, we take a proactive approach in defending clients against drug trafficking charges. We use our experience handling drug crimes and our knowledge of Florida law to reduce charges from trafficking to drug possession. Often we help our clients avoid prison by encouraging them to immediately start community service or complete a drug class.
To learn more about how we can help you, contact our office for a free consultation.
Florida law has a mandatory two year license revocation period for any drug trafficking charge, including trafficking of Roxicodone (Roxies), Xanax, Cocaine, Marijuana and Oxycodone.
At the law firm of Andrew D. Stine, P.A., we provide aggressive defense strategies that help our clients avoid harsh penalties:
- Entrapment: Sometimes, police officers will trick an individual into committing a crime they otherwise would not have committed. If this describes your situation, our defense team will defend you by arguing entrapment and attempt to have your case dismissed.
- Illegal search and seizure: If the evidence against you was obtained without a search warrant, Attorney Stine will file a motion to suppress evidence, which may cause the prosecution to reduce or drop the charges against you.
- False allegation: If you were charged for trafficking Oxycodone or Roxicodone and you have a prescription for these drugs, our firm will work to have your case dismissed.
- Guilty pleas: When there is significant evidence against our client, such as in some cases of marijuana cultivation and grow houses, a guilty a plea may be the best option. Guilty pleas can often reduce or eliminate jail time.