Americans are protected from unlawful searches by law enforcement under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. One common drug crime defense in Florida cases is that the search for drug evidence was conducted illegally. If this defense is sufficiently proven, any evidence acquired during the illegal search will be suppressed and therefore, cannot be used against you in court.
What makes a search lawful?
Law enforcement officials often search people, as well as places where a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy (e.g., home, vehicle, purse) to find evidence of criminal activity and will seize any evidence found. Generally, the officer must have a valid search warrant, or a warrant issued by a judge, based on probable cause, that provides a specific description of the place to be searched or items for seizure. However, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement, including:
- Consent: A person agrees to let an officer search them or their property.
- Search incident to lawful arrest: Officers may conduct a search to find and seize weapons when a suspect is arrested to protect themselves or prevent the destruction of evidence.
- Probable cause: Officer must have reasonable suspicion that the person being searched was involved in a crime, and/or that there will be evidence of a crime in the search area.
- Exigent circumstances: Search and seizure may be conducted if necessary to protect the officer or others.
- Plain view: If an officer is legitimately on the premises and sees evidence of a crime in plain view, he or she can seize it.
If a search and seizure is conducted without a valid warrant and does not fall under any exception to the warrant requirement, it is generally considered unlawful. Therefore, any evidence collected during the search is considered “fruit of the poisonous tree” and will be inadmissible at trial. A criminal defense attorney can help determine whether the police search conducted in your case was unlawful.