Consensual Encounter – Consent to Search

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.

Marijuana Muffin Arrest

In recent news, two roommates were arrested in Florida after an anonymous tip from Crime Stoppers led police to their apartment. When detectives arrived, they could allegedly smell a strong odor of marijuana emanating from the apartment. Based upon that, the detectives were able to detain the roommates and obtain a search warrant for the apartment. While searching the apartment, the police allegedly found pot muffins, batter, a marijuana plant, and loose marijuana,  in addition to a grinder and marijuana smoking devices (presumably bongs or pipes). The roommates were arrested and charged, among other things, with possession of marijuana under 20 grams violation of Florida Statute 893.13, and possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of Florida Statute 893.145.

As rehashed (no pun intended) in my prior blogs on the issue of marijuana laws in Florida (found HERE and HERE), Florida has NOT legalized recreational marijuana use. Possession of Marijuana and Drug Paraphernalia charges are actively being prosecuted in Palm Beach County and throughout Florida. Even the new Florida Marijuana law called the “Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act,” or “Charlotte’s Web,” (which legalizes medical prescribed cannabis oil for very limited and severe medical issues), does NOT legalize edible cannabis products, such as pot cookies, weed brownies, marijuana muffins, or cannabis candy. Possession of marijuana, regardless of the form, in an amount of 20 grams or less can be charged as misdemeanor, with penalties of up to one year in county jail, fines, and a driver’s license suspension. Possession of drug paraphernalia (including, but not limited to: grinders, scales, and pipes) is also still a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

One last note of importance: the odor of marijuana coming from someone’s doorway is enough evidence for police to obtain a search warrant, as seen in this case. Further, the police are lawfully allowed to detain a person until the search warrant is executed in order to prevent that person from destroying the potential evidence inside the home.

Marijuana charges are serious in Florida, regardless of whether the marijuana was baked in a muffin or was still a plant. Anyone who finds themselves facing marijuana charges should contact a knowledgeable Criminal Defense attorney.

 

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.

Cell Phone Searches

The Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami recently ruled that warrantless searches of cell phones are illegal, even when they are incident to a lawful arrest.

Generally, when a person is lawfully placed under arrest, police are legally allowed to search the person without a warrant in order to locate and remove any weapons and to seize any evidence on the person’s body or within their immediate control to prevent concealment or destruction of the evidence. This is commonly referred to as a “search incident to arrest.”

In the case of Saint-Hilaire v. State of Florida,  the defendant was stopped by a police officer for a routine traffic infraction. During their interaction, the officer noticed that the defendant’s wallet contained multiple nearly identical debit cards. The defendant allegedly consented to a search of his wallet. The officer discovered that the coding on one of the cards did not match the name on the front, and then placed the defendant under arrest. At that point, the officer patted down the defendant, found his cell phone, and searched it. The search of the cell phone allegedly revealed a list of multiple names and security numbers. The defendant was ultimately charged with several counts of possession of personal identification information with intent to defraud. Possession of personal identification with intent to defraud (found in Florida Statute 817.568) is a third degree felony in the State of Florida, punishable by up to five (5) years in Florida State Prison for each count, in addition to fines.

The defendant filed a Motion to Suppress, arguing that the evidence found on his cell phone should be thrown out because it was obtained as a result of an unlawful, warrantless search by the police officer. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and he appealed the case.

The appellate court agreed with the defendant and found that the trial court should have thrown out the evidence. The appellate court stated that the search of a cell phone goes beyond the bounds of a legal search incident to a lawful arrest when there is no evidence that the officer had a reasonable belief that the cell phone contained evidence of a crime. The officer was legally allowed to seize (or take) the phone, but he was not allowed to search it.  If the officer wanted to search the phone, the lawful method should have been for him to obtain a warrant.

It is important to note that the State Attorney’s office in that case could still go forward with charges by using the evidence from the defendant’s wallet. If the defendant consented to the search of his wallet, any evidence found in his wallet was lawfully obtained.

Consenting to a search is never a good idea. The only reason police officers ask to search someone is because they want to obtain more evidence against that person to place them under arrest. If the police had enough evidence to arrest the person, they would arrest them. Unfortunately, many people do not know their rights. When stopped by police officers, many people feel intimidated and simply agree to whatever the officer asks, hoping that doing so will make the encounter easier. However, agreeing to searches and answering questions only makes the encounter easier for the police – it gives them more evidence to arrest without even having to apply for a warrant.

Anyone who has questions about their rights regarding searches, consent, and police investigations in Palm Beach County should contact a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer.

 

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.