As a citizen of the United States, you have certain inalienable rights guaranteed by the Constitution to protect you from overreach by the government. Among these is the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. If you or someone you know has recently been charged with a crime in Florida, it’s critical to understand what constitutes an illegal search and seizure. When police obtain evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment, that evidence can often be suppressed and excluded from trial. Knowing the limits of proper police conduct can mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal. This article will explain in detail what illegal search and seizure means in Florida, describe examples of unlawful police behavior, and outline the remedies available when your rights have been violated. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to defend yourself or your loved one.
What Is an Illegal Search and Seizure In Florida?
An illegal search and seizure occurs when law enforcement officers violate your Fourth Amendment rights by conducting an unreasonable search of your person, home, papers or effects without a valid warrant or probable cause. In Florida, evidence obtained through an illegal search and seizure may be suppressed and deemed inadmissible in court.
Law enforcement officers must have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed. They must believe evidence of the crime exists in the place to be searched before conducting a search without a warrant. Officers must also specify the place to be searched and items to be seized. Failing to obtain a warrant when required or exceeding the scope of a warrant during a search may qualify as an illegal search and seizure.
Some examples of illegal searches in Florida include:
- Warrantless searches of homes or vehicles without consent
- Stop and frisk searches without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity
- Pretextual traffic stops used solely as a means to search for evidence of unrelated crimes
- Coercing consent to search through deception, threats or promises
- Unreasonably detaining individuals or using excessive force during an investigative stop
If you believe you have been the victim of an illegal search and seizure, contact an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney immediately. At The Law Office of William Bennett, we can discuss filing a motion to suppress evidence and defend your constitutional rights. The implications of illegal police conduct are severe. You deserve aggressive legal representation protecting your interests at every stage of the criminal process.
When Do Florida Police Need a Search Warrant?
When police wish to conduct a search of your home, search your car, or property, they are typically required to first obtain a search warrant issued by a judge. However, there are some exceptions to this rule under Florida law. As an individual facing criminal charges, it is important to understand when police need a valid search warrant to conduct a search and when your Fourth Amendment rights may have been violated.
Warrant Required for Homes and Private Property
In most cases, police officers need a search warrant to search your home or other private property like your vehicle, bags, containers, and electronic devices. A search warrant must be approved by a judge who has determined there is probable cause that evidence of criminal activity will be found during the search.
Exceptions: Plain View, Consent, Exigent Circumstances
There are some exceptions where a search may be conducted without a warrant. This includes when evidence is in “plain view” of an officer from a lawful vantage point, when you voluntarily consent to a search, or when there are obvious circumstances like destruction of evidence or danger to officers. However, officers must still have probable cause to believe evidence will be found. Consent must also be given voluntarily and knowingly.
If officers searched your home or property without a valid warrant or exception, the search may have violated your Fourth Amendment rights. Evidence obtained from an illegal search and seizure may be suppressed and excluded from the prosecution’s case against you.
Exceptions to the Search Warrant Requirement
As an individual charged with a crime, it is important to understand when evidence obtained during a search may be inadmissible in court due to illegal search and seizure. Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers generally need a valid search warrant to conduct a search. However, there are certain exceptions to the search warrant requirement that could apply in your case.
If you voluntarily consent to a search, police officers do not need a warrant. However, your consent must be freely and voluntarily given. Consent given under duress, coercion or without knowledge of the right to refuse is not considered voluntary. You have the right to limit or withdraw your consent at any time.
Evidence found in “plain view” of the police during a lawful observation may be admissible. This means that if police officers see contraband or other evidence of a crime in plain sight during a lawful vantage point, they may seize it without a warrant. However, they must have a right to be in the position to view the items in plain sight. They cannot enter private property or conduct an unjustified search to put something into plain view.
In emergency situations, such as the imminent destruction of evidence or threat of harm, police officers may conduct a search without a warrant. They must have probable cause to believe that an emergency circumstance exists and that a warrantless search is necessary. The search must be limited to the area necessary to address the emergency.
Police may inventory the contents of an impounded vehicle to avoid liability for lost or stolen property without a warrant. However, they must follow standard police procedures for inventory searches. An inventory search cannot be used as a pretext for an investigatory search without cause.
If evidence was obtained during your case through any of these exceptions, the search may still be considered illegal if police officers exceeded the scope of the exception or if your constitutional rights were otherwise violated. You should discuss the details of your case with a criminal defense attorney to determine if any evidence should be suppressed due to an illegal search and seizure.
What To Do During What Appears To Be An Illegal Search And Seizure
If law enforcement officers conduct a possible illegal search of your property, there are important steps you should take to protect your rights.
Never consent to a search and do not answer any questions. Politely tell the officers that you do not consent to the search but do not wish to interfere. Anything you say can be used against you, so remain silent until you speak with a St. Petersburg criminal defense lawyer.
Do Not Sign Anything
You are under no obligation to sign any documents, written statements or consent forms presented by police. Signing any documents may waive your right to challenge a search later on.
Ask If You Are Free to Leave
During an encounter with the police, ask clearly if you are free to end the encounter and leave the area. When police say you are free to leave, do so immediately. If told you are not allowed to leave, you are being detained and the officers must have reasonable suspicion that you were involved in criminal activity.
Obtain Officer Information
Write down the names and badge numbers of all officers involved in the search. Furthermore, be sure to get contact information for any witnesses present. This information will be important for your criminal defense lawyer to challenge the search.
Contact a Lawyer Immediately
Do not delay in contacting an experienced criminal defense lawyer regarding the illegal search. Time is of the essence to file the proper legal motions to suppress any evidence obtained from an unlawful search. A lawyer can also help you file a complaint about the officers’ conduct and represent you in any civil rights lawsuits.
Knowing how to properly respond during an illegal search is critical. Following these steps will help strengthen your criminal defense and hold law enforcement accountable.
Challenging Illegally Obtained Evidence in Court
If evidence against you was obtained illegally by law enforcement, your criminal defense attorney may be able to challenge it. To determine if a search and seizure was lawful, the court will evaluate whether police had probable cause and obtained a valid warrant. Likewise, they can also determine if an exception to the warrant requirement applied.
Police must have probable cause to believe that criminal activity is occurring or evidence of a crime can be found in a particular place before conducting a search. Probable cause requires specific facts and evidence that would lead a person to believe a search is justified. If police lacked probable cause, any resulting search may be deemed unconstitutional.
In most cases, police are required to obtain a warrant from a judge before conducting a search. A warrant must specify the area to be searched and the items being sought. If police exceed the scope of a warrant or if there was false information, evidence found may be suppressed.
As discussed, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. However, these exceptions are interpreted narrowly. If police claim an exception applies but lack justification, a court may rule the search unlawful.
If a court finds that police violated your Fourth Amendment rights, the remedy is typically suppression of the evidence. This means that the evidence cannot be used against you in court. In some cases, suppression of key evidence may lead prosecutors to drop or reduce charges.
It’s important to investigate the circumstances surrounding your arrest and search. An experienced criminal defense attorney can determine if your rights were violated. As a result, a strong case can be built for suppression of evidence. Protecting your constitutional rights and fighting unjust charges are our top priorities at William B. Bennett Law. With an aggressive defense, illegally obtained evidence should not be used to convict you.
Call The Law Office Of William B. Bennett For Help With Possible Illegal Search And Seizure
Understanding your rights regarding illegal search and seizure is crucial. The laws aim to protect innocent individuals from unjustified government intrusion while also giving law enforcement the ability to effectively investigate criminal activity. If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime, obtain legal counsel right away. The Law Office Of William B. Bennett can help. Call us at (727) 821-8000 today for a free consultation. Likewise, you can reach us on our website here. In the meantime, educate yourself on the topic and contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to evaluate your case. Your rights and freedom may depend on it.