Five Search Warrant Exceptions in St. Lucie County Drug Possession Cases
Drug trafficking operations usually involve extensive investigations and multi-agency cooperations. These efforts usually include formal search and seizure warrants.
But drug possession cases are different. Generally, these cases might begin at traffic stops. Officers pull over the driver for something completely unrelated to drug possession, such as speeding. During the course of their investigation, they find drugs. Or, officers receive a tip, enter a dwelling without a warrant, and find drugs.
The seized drugs are inadmissible under the Fourth Amendment unless a search warrant exception applies. Courts never add more exceptions, so it’s either a listed exception or nothing. If no exception applies, a Port St. Lucie criminal defense attorney may be able to get the evidence excluded.
This exception could apply in both automobile searches and dwelling searches. If the owner consents, police may enter the property, search for contraband, and keep anything they find.
Authority, or lack thereof, is sometimes an issue. Only an owner, or a person with apparent ownership authority, can provide effective consent. So, a roommate whose name is not on the lease can consent to a dwelling search, but a truck passenger cannot consent to a vehicle search.
This exception comes up a lot in vehicle searches. If officers approach a car, peer inside, and see drugs or other contraband in plain view, they can legally seize it.
There are some limitations. First, the officers must be legally in that place at that time. So, in vehicle search cases, the initial stop must be supported by reasonable suspicion. Second, the item must be entirely in plain view. Partial plain view cases, like part of a baggie protruding from under a seat, are in a grey area.
The plain view doctrine may also apply in dwelling searches. But as mentioned, officers must be legally inside the residence. The exigent circumstances exception sometimes provides the underlying basis.
Assume two people get into a fight at a house party and the neighbors call police. When they respond to the disturbance call, officers can enter the house without a warrant and make sure that everyone inside is okay. While they are there, they may seize any contraband they see in plain view.
The scope of the search may be an issue. For example, if the fight was in the front yard, officers probably do not have the authority to search a detached garage or shed in the backyard. They may not even have the authority to search the house.
Weapons Pat Down
If officers have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, they may stop people on the street, pat them down for weapons, and confiscate any contraband they see, or rather feel, in plain view.
Officers sometimes try to use this exception when people leave a suspected drug house and officers have no other basis to stop or search them. The Supreme Court has watered down the reasonable suspicion rule in cases like this, but a Port St. Lucie criminal defense attorney may still be able to exclude the evidence.
Motor Vehicle Exception
The Supreme Court has also ruled that people have a lower expectation of privacy in their vehicles than they have in their homes. So, if officers have probable cause, they may search vehicles without warrants.
“Probable cause” is an evidentiary standard between reasonable suspicion and beyond a reasonable doubt. So, for this exception to apply, officers have to be fairly certain that there are drugs in the vehicle. Motor vehicle exception searches are often follow-up searches. If someone has been arrested for drug possession, officers can probably look for more drugs.
Contact an Energetic Lawyer
Drug possession searches and seizures usually involve complex legal issues. For a free consultation with an experienced Port St. Lucie criminal defense attorney, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.