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Five Search Warrant Exceptions in Florida Drug Crimes


Privacy rights are deeply embedded in the Constitution. For example, the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Before they can enter private property, such as a dwelling or vehicle, officers must generally have search warrants based on probable cause.

Over the years, the Supreme Court has carved out some search warrant exceptions in drug cases. They may seem diverse, but they all have a common denominator. They all involve a lesser privacy interest. Port St. Lucie criminal attorneys must focus on this interest, if they expect to win motions to suppress evidence.


If people give up their right to privacy, there is very little that an attorney can do. So, most warrantless drug searches are consent searches.

There is some constitutional interplay here. The Fifth Amendment gives people the right to remain silent when police officers ask for consent to search. It’s usually a good idea to exercise this right. Do not fall for common police tricks. For example, some officers threaten to get search warrants if the suspects do not consent. But that’s an empty threat. If officers had probable cause, they probably would not ask for consent.

Furthermore, there are some other limits. The consent must be effective. Only property owners, or persons that officers reasonably believe to be property owners (i.e. a roommate whose name is not on the lease) may give consent. Additionally, consent must be affirmative and voluntary. Opening the door is not consent to search.

Plain View

If the defendant made no effort to conceal an item, it’s reasonable to conclude that the defendant had no privacy interest in it. Police officers can go through garbage on the street for the same reason.

This search is limited as well. Officers must lawfully be in that place at that time. Additionally, they cannot use binoculars or microscopes to bring items into plain view.

There is also some interplay here. If an officer sees part of a plastic baggie under the seat, the baggie could contain crack cocaine or it could contain the defendant’s lunch. Generally, officers can only take the bag if the defendant admits it contains drugs. Once again, it’s important to remain silent.

Exigent Circumstances

If police believe someone is in trouble, the concern for public safety outweighs the individual’s right to privacy.

This exception comes up frequently in drug cases. Generally, officers respond to a disturbance or other such call. They arguably have the right to enter the dwelling and ensure that everyone inside is okay. While there, they may take any contraband they see in plain view or request consent to search.

Typically, there must be an imminent danger of serious injury. So, a loud party probably does not trigger the exigent circumstances exception, but if a partygoer brandished a weapon, the exception may apply.

Automobile Exception

According to constitutional law, people have a lower expectation of privacy in their automobiles, so Fourth Amendment protections may not apply. The result could be different if there is evidence that the vehicle is also a dwelling.

If officers have probable cause, they may search vehicles without warrants. However, they may only look in places where they will probably find what they are looking for. They cannot look for drugs under the hood.

Search Incident to Arrest

People indirectly waive their right to privacy when they are arrested. That’s the basis of the search incident to arrest exception.

Fifteen years ago, this exception would have been at the top. Before 2009’s Arizona v. Gant, police could “arrest” people for minor infractions, like speeding, and extensively search their vehicles as the owners stood and watched. But Gant limited these searches to weapons pat-downs. So, this exception does not come up very much anymore.

Contact a Savvy Lawyer

Generally, police officers 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. We routinely handle matters all along the Treasure Coast area.



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