"HOT PURSUIT" DOES NOT PERMIT THE WARRANTLESS ENTRY INTO A HOME TO ARREST FOR NON-VIOLENT MISDEMEANOR
One of the first things we tell clients in our criminal defense practice is never give a law enforcement officer permission to search anything. The Constitution places strict limits on when law enforcement can perform a search, and oftentimes officers won't have a warrant or the probable cause they require when they want to search a suspect's property. However, the moment that a suspect consents to a police officer's search, most of that suspect's constitutional protections disappear. For this reason, "consensual encounters" are one of the most popular techniques that officers use to collect evidence. When an officer asks if he can search a vehicle, he usually is not just being polite, but likely has doubts about whether the constitution allows him to perform a search without the suspect's permission.
Most people are familiar with the "plain view" doctrine, which permits police officers to seize items without a warrant, if those items are clearly visible while the officer is performing his or her official duties. For instance, if an officer observes contraband after a lawful traffic stop, that contraband can be immediately seized. What happens when the officer "feels" an item; does the same doctrine apply? Beginning with the case of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), courts have not hesitated to apply the plain feel exception to warrantless searches.
It is not unusual for law enforcement officers to turn a traffic stop into a full blown search and seizure of the vehicle that has been stopped. How is this accomplished? First, many times the officers, who have made what seems to be a routine traffic stop, know they will find contraband in the vehicle. The traffic stop is used as an excuse to get inside the vehicle, without the police having to reveal the source of their information that the car is carrying. After issuing a traffic citation, a "casual" request to search the vehicle is made. If consent is declined, the officers call back-up to bring a drug sniffing dog. If the dog alerts to the presence of contraband, the vehicle is searched based upon that alert and no one, including the driver ever knows the actual reason for the search.
On March 30, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Grady v. North Carolina, 2015 WL 1400850 (2015). In Grady, the defendant was convicted of a sex offense with a child. After serving his sentence, he was designated as a recidivist sex offender and a hearing was held to determine whether he should be subject to satellite-based monitoring (SBM). The defendant argued that the monitoring would violate his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Nonetheless, the trial court ordered the defendant to wear an ankle bracelet and be monitored for the rest of his life.
On February 13, 2015, the Fifth District Court of Appeal decided the case of Oliver v. State, 2015 WL 585536 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015). In Oliver, the defendant was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped for an inoperable tag light. The stop itself was not challenged on appeal. After the stop, the officer, in an aggressive manner, ordered the defendant to "keeps his hands on the f***ing dashboard." After a canine sniff alerted the officers to the presence of drugs in the car, the officers searched the defendant and found marijuana and a firearm on his person.
Are there any limits to the warrantless search of a vehicle anymore? Can the police search everywhere in a car once the occupants are removed under the justification of a "protective sweep"? At least one Florida judge recently said that there are some limits under the Constitution. State v Copeland, FLW Supp 2201 COPE (2nd Circuit, Leon County, August 13, 2014).
We are often asked whether police officers have the right to approach a person's home without a warrant and then use what they observe to search the home. Generally, in the absence of "no trespassing" signs or fences, officers have the right to engage in what is referred to a "knock and talk" of a home, that is they have the right to walk on the sidewalk of your home, knock on your front door and engage you in a "consensual encounter." They do not have the right to conduct warrantless searches of your property. Nor do they have the right to enter into your backyard. In fact, the right to engage you is extremely limited. Law enforcement personnel often exceed the authority given to them under the walk and talk doctrine. This article discusses two cases which have limited the ability of police officers to conduct warrantless searches in the curtilage of your home and what you should do to protect yourself from unlawful searches and seizures on your property.
We are frequently asked how to respond when a police officer asks for consent to search your vehicle. Our emphatic response is "Just Say No!" By consenting to the search of your vehicle, you forfeit your right to challenge the search of your vehicle, and anything found within it can be used against you if you are charged with a crime. In order to search your vehicle the police officer must have probable cause to search it, or exigent circumstances must exist to do so. Police cannot search your car just because you have been arrested. If an officer thinks he or she has the right to search your vehicle, there is no reason to request your consent. Asking to search your vehicle is an implicit admission that the officer does not have cause to do so.