Warrantless Car Search OK’d in Florida Drug Case

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.

Legal News GavelA 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.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit said the trial judge didn’t err in allowing the drug and gun evidence to be introduced at trial. The court explained that police officers generally are required to have a warrant from a judge in order to conduct a search. There are a number of exceptions to this general rule, however, including for vehicles. Officers can search a car, the court said, if the vehicle is readily mobile, and the cops have probable cause.

It is “well established that if a police officer detects the odor of marijuana, this gives rise to probable cause,” the court explained. As a result, the court upheld the conviction.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug or other crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa drug crime lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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Constructive Possession in Florida Gun Crime Cases

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