Criminal Defense, Legal Blog, Recent News, Search and Seizure, Warrant

Police Radars Can “See” into Homes

USA Today reports that new police radars can be used to, in effect, “see” through walls and into a person’s home by using radio waves to reveal human motion within a home. According to the story,

“At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have secretly equipped their officers with radar devices that allow them to effectively peer through the walls of houses to see whether anyone is inside, a practice raising new concerns about the extent of government surveillance. . . .

They can detect whether anyone is inside of a house, where they are and whether they are moving.”

The law enforcement agencies have reportedly been using this technology for the past two years, without notice to the public or courts:

“Agents’ use of the radars was largely unknown until December, when a federal appeals court in Denver said officers had used one before they entered a house to arrest a man wanted for violating his parole. The judges expressed alarm that agents had used the new technology without a search warrant, warning that “the government’s warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions.””

An infographic by USA Today demonstrates how the radar works:

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However, other versions of the radar reportedly have significantly more enhanced capabilities, such as “three-dimensional displays of where people are located inside a building” and “[o]ne is capable of being mounted on a drone.” This type of radar technology was initially designed as battlefield technology for use in Iran and Afghanistan. In fact, the Justice Department has reportedly funded research to continue the development of systems that can “map the interiors of buildings and locate the people within them.”

This technology, which is not now new in light of recent reports, poses significant Constitutional issues. Police are not permitted to scan the inside of a home with a thermal camera without a warrant, and drug dog sniffs of the outside of homes have been limited by the Supreme Court. While it would seem that these radars would(or should) fall under the same Constitutional analysis, it appears that the Denver federal appeals court’s decision published last month (referenced above) was the first court decision referencing the radar technology or its Constitutional implications.

The full USA Today story can be found HERE.

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 Family law.

Criminal Defense, Legal Blog, Marijuana

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.

Criminal Defense, Legal Blog, Marijuana

Consent to Search – Grow Houses

In Miami, there was recently an interesting case regarding a marijuana hydroponics grow operation. In the case, the defendant was arrested after police searched his home and discovered a hydroponic marijuana farming business in his garage. Detectives had received an anonymous tip that marijuana was being grown in the defendant’s home. Seven (7) police officers showed up at the defendant’s home early in the morning to search for the grow house. The seven officers were comprised of four detectives, one sergeant, and two uniformed officers, all with marked police cars. They arrived at the defendant’s house to perform what is referred to as a “knock and talk,” which is basically a police tactic used by officers who do not yet have enough evidence to place someone under arrest, and is usually used in drug cases. During a “knock and talk,” the police knock on a suspect’s door and hope that the suspect will answer, start talking, and give the police enough incriminating information to arrest him. During the “knock and talk” in this case, the defendant answered the door, allowed the officers to come into the house, and cooperated with whatever the officers asked of him. The officers testified that they smelled the odor of marijuana as soon as the door was opened. The officers read the defendant Miranda warnings, the defendant signed a consent to search, and the officers then walked around the defendant’s home and ultimately discovered the marijuana grow house in the defendant’s garage. They placed him under arrest for having a hydroponic operation/grow house under Florida Statute 893.135.

After reviewing the basic facts of that case, one might come to believe that the defendant was merely acquiescing to authority. There were seven police officers, presumably all with their full gear and weapons visible, all with marked police cars, knocking on the defendant’s door at the same time asking to search his house. Some might think that is a coercive situation, and that any consent to search must have been involuntary. Many people believe that when a police officer asks them to do something, they have to do it. Imagine if there were seven officers standing there, waiting for the person to agree!  The defendant filed a Motion to Suppress in his case, arguing just that. However, the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami, Florida found that the search of the defendant’s home was lawful and consensual, and ruled that the defendant was not coerced into agreeing to the search.

The court stated that when the police read to the defendant his Miranda warnings, they advised the defendant that he had the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to end the encounter with the police at any time. The defendant never ended the encounter or asked for a lawyer. Instead, he cooperated. Further, the court stated that the fact that seven police officers were on scene was not enough to find that the defendant was overpowered and felt compelled to do as he was asked. The court found that it is reasonable for seven officers to investigate a narcotics tip, and because they never made any shows of authority (such as taking out their guns, or handcuffing the defendant), there was no issue.

This case provides an extremely important lesson regarding police encounters. Police officers who are conducting “knock and talks” do so because they do not have enough evidence to arrest. When people open their doors to police officers during knock and talks, they risk giving the officers enough evidence to obtain a warrant without even doing anything further. The odor of marijuana emanating from someone’s doorway is enough for police to go to a judge and get a warrant to come back and search the house. Even if there is no noticeable odor of marijuana, if people consent to the police entering their home and searching, police will do exactly that and continue to search until they find something to arrest.

People do not have to allow officers into their homes. People do not have to consent to searches. Although being confronted by a police officer may be intimidating, people should not simply acquiesce to the officer’s authority and do whatever he says. It is important for everyone to know and understand their rights.

When an officer reads Miranda warnings, he will say the following:

  • You have the right to remain silent when questioned.
  • Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.
  • If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
  • Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

A person who is being read those rights should pay attention and invoke them or risk giving the police enough evidence to place them under arrest, or more evidence to strengthen the State Attorney’s case.

Drug charges can have extremely serious consequences, and they are heavily prosecuted in Palm Beach County and throughout Florida. Anyone facing drug charges should contact a knowledgeable attorney to review the case and determine a defense strategy.

 

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.