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What Is an Illegal Search & Seizure in Florida?

Close up of police officer in bullet proof vest and gear

A Criminal Defense Lawyer in Clay County Reveals What To Know

In Florida, police regularly conduct searches and seizures — with and without warrants. Sometimes, these searches are illegal and the evidence that results should not be used against the suspect. When this happens, you have to prove that the search was unjust.

While proving a search and seizure was illegal often requires the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, residents in Florida should still know their rights.

Do the Police Need a Warrant To Search My Property?

A warrant is a court order directing law enforcement to act. Search and seizure warrants are necessary because of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

The constitutional amendment states:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."

Valid warrants meet four requirements: they are requested in good faith, the request is backed by reliable information, the order was issued by a neutral official, the document specifically states what or whom is to be searched and the items to be seized.

If an officer comes to your door without a warrant, you are within your rights to deny access and state that you do not give permission for a search. When addressing police, it is best to step outside your home and close the door behind you so that they cannot see inside and spot something that could be twisted into probable cause.

Do Police Always Need a Warrant To Search Your Property?

No. Police typically need a warrant to search someone's vehicle or home, but there are significant exceptions. A warrantless search can be conducted for certain reasons and circumstances, including:

  • Abandoned dwelling
  • Consent of a property owner or other person who has the authority to do so (Consent can be withdrawn or limited in time.)
  • Controlled drug purchases
  • Destruction of evidence is imminent
  • Suspect is a flight or escape risk
  • Evidence of suspected criminal activity in plain view
  • Probable cause
  • Protective sweeps
  • Hot pursuit (in some, but not all situations)

Police are also allowed to conduct warrantless search and seizures under "exigent" or pressing circumstances, which may be broadly debated. An officer may also enter your house without a warrant to provide medical aid to a victim or pursue a suspected violent offender. While an officer is inside a property under these conditions, they may seize evidence in plain view.

What is Florida's "Knock and Announce" Law?

Florida also has the "Knock and Announce Statute." This law requires police to communicate their authority and provide "due notice" of their purpose before entering a property with a warrant, but without the consent of a qualified individual.

If law enforcement does not provide enough time for a person to reasonably respond to their notice and forces their way into a property, there is often solid ground to suppress search results. There are many factors that influence how long "due notice" is, but, in general, it should be at least 15 seconds.

There are four exceptions to this rule:

  • The occupant already knows of the officers' authority and purpose
  • There is a reasonable belief that persons within are in immediate danger
  • Risk to the officers' safety would increase
  • To stop a suspect from escaping or the destruction of evidence

If weapons are present in the home and noted on the search warrant, courts have acknowledged a short knock may be necessary for safety. It's also worth noting that "Knock and Annouce" does not apply to vehicles.

What To Do When You Suspect an Illegal Search and Seizure

If you suspect an illegal search and seizure is taking place, make sure to communicate that you do not give your consent for the search. Do not attempt to physically stop officers from searching. Fighting illegal searches and seizures should happen after the fact.

Illegal searches and seizures may be accepted in court unless challenged, usually by the suspect. If you are the subject of an illegal search, it is important for you to understand your rights and how to assert them. It is often wise to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to effectively argue your point.

When a search is determined to be illegal, evidence collected during the incident cannot be used against the suspect, but there are exceptions to this rule.

Charges or pending charges against you will not be automatically dropped because of an illegal search. However, sometimes the justice system doesn't have a case against you without that illegally secured evidence, and charges are withdrawn.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney About Your Rights

A conviction has the potential to turn your whole life upside down. If you are facing charges that arise from a possible illegal search, you should talk to a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to get a clear understanding of your legal rights and options.

At Aguilar & Sieron, P.A., our criminal defense attorneys know the ins and outs of the Florida criminal justice system and can identify when an illegal search and seizure has taken place. Let us fight for your rights and work for the best possible outcome in your case.

Find out more about how we can help you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation. Our office is located in Green Cove Springs, Florida, right next to the Clay County Jail and Courthouse.

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