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.