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5 Search Warrant Exceptions In Florida


In major drug trafficking cases, officers usually have search warrants. But in other areas, most notably drug possession and illegal weapons criminal cases, there are no warrants. The evidence that the officers seize may still be admissible in court, under certain circumstances.

The Fourth Amendment, and the law that surrounds it, forbids unreasonable searches and seizures. Port St. Lucie judges cannot randomly draw lines between reasonable and unreasonable searches. Instead, the police action must fit within one of the recognized search warrant exceptions.


Many people voluntarily consent to officer searches. Many people also volunteer incriminating information by giving statements or voluntarily give chemical samples during DUI arrests. There’s a significant difference of opinion as to whether it is a good idea or bad idea to give such consent. But for the most part, individuals who give consent to search are also giving away one of their best defenses.

Special rules apply to Florida consent property searches. In some cases, the person giving the consent need not have permission to do so. For example, a roommate who is not on the lease can give permission to search a house. However, that roommate cannot give permission to search a locked chest in the house.

Exigent Circumstances

The emergency sweep exception is usually coupled with the plain view exception, which is discussed below. Exigent circumstances give officers permission to enter buildings without warrants. For example, Port St. Lucie officers who receive a call about a gas leak can break into the house and ensure that no one is home.

How far the officers can go is another matter. The officers in this example certainly have a right to search the house. But they probably cannot enter a detached garage or shed that’s on the property.

Plain View

If officers are lawfully in a certain place, they may seize any contraband which is in plain view. Although they can use the exigent circumstances exception to enter a house without permission, they cannot use binoculars to bring far-off things into “plain view.”

Issues also arise if the contraband is only partially visible, such as the handle of a gun. The general rule is that the item must be both visible and accessible, but different Florida courts often use different definitions for these terms.

Search Incident to Arrest

Until 2009, this exception was probably the most commonly-used one. Before then, officers could literally tear a vehicle or dwelling apart after making a pro forma arrest for something like an outstanding warrant. But that year, the Supreme Court limited these searches to weapons pat-downs. So, this exception is not used very much anymore in Florida.

Weapons Pat-Downs

When an officer stops a suspect on a street, a Port St. Lucie officer can pat the suspect for weapons. The officer may seize any contraband s/he finds, even if it is not a weapon. The officer must have reasonable suspicion that the defendant may be armed. “Reasonable suspicion” basically means a vague fact or two, such as a bulge in a pocket, coupled with the officer’s gut instinct. This standard is very low, but it’s enough to deter officers from making such sweeps except in rare circumstances.

Join With Experienced Lawyers

Police officers do not always need search warrants to seize evidence. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.



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