Search and seizure issues often come up in Florida drug crime cases. Generally, police are required to get a warrant from a judge in order to search a person’s home, car, or even cell phone records. In many cases, however, courts have said the warrant requirement may not be feasible. That’s why police can sometimes search cars without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that there’s evidence of a crime inside. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently explained how the car search exception works in a Bay County drug case.
A defendant was charged with three drug crimes in 2013. He was released from prison while awaiting trial on those charges when he failed to show up at a pretrial conference. A court in Bay County issued a warrant for his arrest. The court issued a second arrest warrant in 2014, when he failed to show for a hearing in a separate criminal mischief case. U.S. Marshals eventually used cell phone data to track him to a Dollar General store – thanks to another warrant, this time allowing cops to search his phone info – where they found and arrested him. The officers also found the key to a Ford Taurus and a gun in a plastic bag on his person. They located the car – which the officers said smelled heavily of marijuana – and found a variety of drugs, five more guns, and $6,700 in cash. The defendant was charged with possession with intent to distribute various drugs and possession of firearms.
At trial, his lawyers asked a federal judge to exclude the firearms and drug evidence gained from the Ford Taurus from the case against him. The judge rejected that request, finding that the officers had probable cause to search the car based on the smell of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. The defendant was eventually convicted on all of the charges and sentenced to nearly nine years in prison.