The Fourth Amendment provides citizens with the most protection inside their own homes. A recent decision by the Florida Second District Court of Appeal-Davis v. State-addressed which areas in a rooming house constitute a Defendants' "home" for the purposes of such protection. Davis involved a defendant who stashed a pill bottle containing cocaine inside a lattice beneath the rooming house where he sometimes stayed. A police officer proceeded to remove the lattice and search the pill bottle. Davis's criminal defense attorney sought to suppress the results of the search. He argued that removing the lattice constituted an unlawful search of the defendant's home.
Approximately 96% of all vehicles manufactured since 2013 are equipped with devices called event data recorders-or "black boxes"-that keep track of data such as when the driver brakes, steering, engine rpm during a crash. More sophisticated black boxes record a wealth of information about a person's driving habits ranging from where they go, how fast they drive, and even whether the vehicles systems are in working order. In the hands of law enforcement officers or prosecutors, such data can become powerful evidence in a criminal case.
"HOT PURSUIT" DOES NOT PERMIT THE WARRANTLESS ENTRY INTO A HOME TO ARREST FOR NON-VIOLENT MISDEMEANOR
Ordinarily, when a police officer seeks to enter a person's vehicle without their permission, they need to have some reasonable suspicion that its occupants have engaged in criminal activity. One exception to this rule is the "community care-taker" exception. This doctrine dates back to a 1973 Supreme Court Case called Cady v. Dombrowski. In that case, a police officer took custody of the defendant's vehicle following a traffic accident so that he could move the vehicle out of oncoming traffic. Upon learning that there was a revolver in the trunk of the vehicle, the officer opened the trunk and removed the gun.
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.
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.
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).
Today, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled unanimously that search and seizure of the contents of a cell phone during an arrest is an unreasonable search and seizure and is, therefore, unlawful. Riley v. California, 573 U.S. ___ (2014). This ruling resolves a longstanding circuit split over the cell phone search-incident-to-arrest doctrine, and mirrors the Florida Supreme Court's holding in Smallwood v. State, 113 So. 3d 724 (Fla. 2013), which we previously blogged about here.
In a 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court this week ruled that, in a limited set of circumstances, police officers can conduct a warrantless search of a person's residence over that person's objection, if another occupant consents to such search. The facts of California v. Fernandez are somewhat unique and, as a result, the Fernandez decision may have limited application. Nonetheless, the language of Fernandez implies it may have a significant impact upon the way police officers obtain consent, namely, by separating the home's occupants and "persuading" the weakest link to consent to a warrantless search. After Fernandez, all occupants should make clear their refusal to consent to a warrantless search or risk having a court declare items seized to have been lawfully obtained.