Warrantless Search & Seizures in Florida

In the field of criminal defense, attorneys frequently ask this of their clients’ cases, “Was the search and seizure lawful?” Because if it wasn’t, the defense lawyer may be able to get illegally collected evidence suppressed and in some circumstances, the case dismissed.

In reality, law enforcement is not supposed to conduct a warrantless search and seizure unless specific exceptions apply. If the police felt it necessary to conduct a warrantless search and seizure, the burden is on the government to prove that the seizure was reasonable, and that it fell within one of the known exceptions to a warrant requirement.

What about you? Was your car, your backpack or purse, or your house searched without a signed warrant from a judge? If so, you may be wondering, “Was the seizure illegal?” Maybe, maybe not. Let’s take a look at the common exceptions for a warrant:

  • Consent. If the officers asked, “Can we search your car?” or “Can we take a look around your house?” and you said yes, you just gave your consent. This can be an issue for teenage suspects whose parents, grandparents or legal guardians authorize officers to search the teen’s belongings or bedroom.
  • It was in plain view. If an officer observes an item while in a place where he or she is lawfully allowed to be and it gives them probable cause to believe the item should be seized, a warrantless seizure can be conducted. For example, if an officer is conducting a DUI stop and he sees a handgun on the driver’s passenger seat, the officer has a right to check if the gun is stolen, or if the driver is a “prohibited possessor.” If the officer determines that the driver is a felon in possession of a firearm, the driver can be arrested on the spot and face weapons charges.
  • Suspect is in custody. If a suspect is in custody and under arrest, he or she can be searched in case they have any weapons or firearms handy. They can also be searched in case there is any destructible evidence within reach.
  • Urgent or pressing circumstances. If there are exigent circumstances (urgent circumstances), officers can conduct a warrantless search. Police can also enter a residence without the property owner’s consent if they are chasing a suspect and they believe the suspect can endanger the occupants of the residence.
  • Vehicle searches. Once someone is arrested, officers can search the suspect’s vehicle if they believe the vehicle contains evidence connected to the arrest.

I sincerely hope this information is useful to you. If you’re facing criminal charges in West Palm Beach and you believe you were subjected to police misconduct or an illegal search and seizure, I urge you to contact my firm for a free consultation.


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