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Top Five Search Warrant Exceptions in Florida


For many years, the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of warrantless searches and seizures was nearly absolute. Then, mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, the Supreme Court created several search warrant exceptions, mostly based on the “reasonable search” requirement in the Fourth Amendment. In other words, the following searches and seizures are reasonable and therefore allowable, warrant or no warrant.

The development of search warrant exceptions made it possible for a Tampa criminal defense lawyer to win cases on procedural grounds. That’s important for two reasons. First, procedural mistakes are unredeemable. No one can go back in time and correct a police or other procedural error. Second, the judge decides the case without addressing the merits. Frequently, the merits of a criminal case strongly favor the prosecutor.

Plain View

One of the most common search warrant exceptions usually applies in vehicle seizure matters. Officers don’t need warrants to seize drugs or other contraband they see in plain view, if they were lawfully in that place at that time, and they saw the contraband with their own two eyes.

So, if the stop was illegal, a plain view seizure is illegal. If Officer Max seizes drugs he found at an illegal DUI checkpoint, perhaps because the roadblock didn’t conform to safety rules, the drugs are inadmissible at trial.

Furthermore, surveillance plain view seizures are illegal. Officers can use binoculars or other such equipment to observe drug transactions or other illegal activity. But they cannot seize the drugs or other contraband they see during this surveillance.

Partial plain view seizures are in a gray area. If Officer Nancy sees a pistol handle protruding from underneath a seat, the item could be an illegal firearm or a toy gun. She doesn’t know for sure.

Owner Consent

This exception is probably the most common one. It applies in both vehicle and real property searches.

Consent is an affirmative, voluntary, and revocable act. Consent is different from assent. Almost everyone assents to law enforcement requests, but few people consent to them. In this context, “voluntary” doesn’t mean 100 percent voluntary. Courts tolerate some pressuring and bullying. But eventually, such tactics cross the line. Consent to search is also revocable. However, it’s not limited. People cannot tell officers “you can look everywhere but in the trunk.”

Stop and Frisk

This exception might be the most controversial one, because of its association with racial profiling. However, officers cannot stop and frisk people on the street for no reason. Instead, they must reasonably suspect criminal activity.

Reasonable suspicion is basically an evidence-based hunch. Officers may draw on their training and experience to interpret evidence. But the evidence must be there first. Officer Tom cannot profile a suspect, follow him until he acts suspiciously, and search him.

Additionally, in most cases, the criminal activity must involve a reasonable fear that the defendant is armed. The pat-down is exclusively to find weapons. However, officers can seize any contraband they find, whether or not it’s an illegal weapon.

Hot Pursuit

Courts don’t allow people to manipulate the law. So, if officers are running after a suspect, the suspect cannot duck into a building and hide behind the Fourth Amendment.

On a similar note, the same principle applies to multistate and multi-county pursuits. The county line or state line is not a magical boundary that robes police officers of their authority. The chase can continue.

Search Incident to Arrest

Before 1990, this exception was probably at the top of the list. Officers routinely “arrested” individuals and used that arrest as a pretext to search their vehicles. But that year, the Supreme Court limited a search incident to an arrest to a weapons pat-down, much like a stop-and-frisk. So, this exception is now at the bottom of the list.

 Work With a Savvy Hillsborough County Attorney

A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. We routinely handle matters throughout the Tampa Bay area.

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