An interesting case recently came out in the 2nd DCA regarding consensual encounters with police officers.
In the case, a police officer initiated a consensual encounter (or, an encounter with a person who is free to leave at any point) with an 18 year old high-schooler. The officer asked the student for his identification, which the student handed to the officer. The officer placed the student’s ID card and wallet on the hood of his patrol car. The officer then asked if the student would consent to a search as an “officer safety” method to ensure the student had no weapons, which the student permitted. The officer ultimately found four hydrocodone pills in the student’s pocket, for which the student had no prescription. the student was placed under arrest for possession of hydrocodone, a felony in the State of Florida.
The student filed a Motion to Suppress the evidence (the hydrocodone pills) found by the officer, arguing that the pills were found during an unlawful search. The student argued that the encounter with the police officer transformed from a “consensual encounter,” where he was free to leave, into an illegal detention, where he was no longer free to leave, when the officer placed the student’s ID and wallet on the hood of his patrol car. The motion to suppress was denied.
In denying the motion to suppress the evidence, the court reiterated the rule of law that police officers are not required to tell people that they are free to leave during a consensual encounter. However, the 2nd DCA reversed the ruling, and held that the evidence should have been suppressed because the student was clearly being detained and not free to leave when the officer held onto his ID and wallet. Therefore, when the student allegedly consented to the search, the student’s consent was not voluntary – he felt compelled to comply with the officer’s requests as a result of the improper detention. As a result, the evidence obtained as a result of the subsequent search was found to be unlawful. The 2nd DCA ruled that the student’s case should be dismissed.
Cases where law enforcement officers conduct searches are often wrought with Constitutional issues. This case (Lane v. State of Florida) is a perfect example. However, it is important to remember that just because evidence obtained as a result of an unlawful search may be suppressed, the case will not always necessarily be thrown out all together as a result. The outcome of each case will depend on the specific facts of that case.
Anyone who has been arrested as a result of a search by a police officer should contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss the particular facts of the case and review any potential constitutional violations.
Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.