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Tampa Criminal Attorney > Blog > Criminal Defense > Common Search Warrant Exceptions in Florida

Common Search Warrant Exceptions in Florida


Blank search warrants, or writs of assistance, were a thorn in the side of American colonists. These documents allowed British authorities to search any private property they pleased, for any reason they fabricated. So, the Founding Fathers added the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This provision allows judges to issue search warrants only if law enforcement presents a probable cause affidavit.

Every rule has exceptions, and so does the prohibition on warrantless searches. Some of the more common search warrant exceptions are examined below.

If officers didn’t have a valid warrant and a search warrant exception didn’t apply, the judge must exclude that evidence. The exclusionary rule makes it almost impossible for prosecutors to meet their burden of proof. Therefore, in many cases, a Tampa criminal defense lawyer wins or loses a case on the strength or weakness of a search warrant exception.


Owner consent might be the most common search warrant exception. Officers don’t need warrants if property owners, or apparent owners, voluntarily and affirmatively consent to property searches. An apparent owner is a person like a roommate whose name isn’t on the lease.

Only an owner or apparent owner may consent. If Officer Joe wants to search a car full of people, he cannot keep asking passengers until someone says yes.

Consent must be voluntary, but it doesn’t have to be 100 percent voluntary. Judges usually give officers some room to bully or coerce owners into consenting. However, at some point, such bullying or coercion crosses the line, and the consent becomes involuntary.

A Tampa criminal defense lawyer helps ensure that officers have as little leeway as possible. Frequently, officers bully people simply by asking. Many people don’t know they have a right to say no.

Incidentally, a common bullying tactic is to say if you don’t consent, we’ll get a warrant. That’s an empty threat. If officers had probable cause for a warrant, they wouldn’t ask for consent.

Furthermore, consent is affirmative. Inviting an officer inside is not consent to search. A response like “I guess so” is arguably assent instead of consent.

Weapons Pat-Down

This exception is probably the second most common search warrant exception in Florida. If officers reasonably suspect that a person is involved in criminal activity, officers may pat down that person for weapons on the spot.

Reasonable suspicion is basically an evidence-based hunch. If officers feel any other contraband during this pat-down, like illegal drugs, they may seize it, under the plain view doctrine.

This exception only applies if officers were legally in that place at that time. They cannot randomly detain people and search them. Furthermore, officers must convincingly testify that they felt drugs instead of something soft, a handgun instead of something hard, and so on.

Other search warrant exceptions, which aren’t used very often or only apply on a limited basis, include the automobile exception, the plain view exception, and the search incident to arrest exception.

Reach Out to a Compassionate Hillsborough County Attorney

A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Virtual, home, and jail visits are available.

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