Florida Drug Crimes and the Plain View Doctrine

The protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution against unreasonable search and seizures is one of the most important protections available to citizen’s facing investigation by Florida law enforcement authorities.  Search and seizure protections are particularly relevant in the context of Florida drug offenses.  It is frequently the case that the most critical evidence in a drug case is either illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia.  If this evidence is obtained illegally as a result of an unreasonable search and seizure, your Florida criminal illegal drug defense attorney may be able to file a motion to suppress this evidence resulting in a reduced charge or dismissal of the charges.  Generally, the police need a search warrant to conduct a search, and any search without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable.  However, there are many exceptions to the warrant requirement with one of the most critical being the “plain view doctrine.”

The best way to understand the plain view doctrine is in the context of an actual factual pattern.  In the case of Boim v. State, 194 So. 2d 313 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 1967), the defendants were charged with unlawful possession of marijuana and unlawful possession of amphetamine salts.  The police detective who arrested the defendants was summoned to the residence on an unrelated domestic disturbance complaint by a neighbor.  While the officer was speaking with the defendants, he smelled marijuana and observed one of the defendants watering what appeared to be a marijuana plant in a flowerbed next to the house.  The officer later returned without a warrant and took the plant to a drug lab for testing.  The officer obtained an arrest warrant and returned to arrest the defendants and confiscate more incriminating evidence.

The defendants challenged their convictions on appeal because the officer obtained the arrest warrant and the subsequently discovered incriminating evidence as a result of the initial warrantless seizure of the marijuana plant from the flowerbed.  However, the court did not suppress the marijuana plant seized from the flowerbed because it was in plan view when the officer was at the house lawfully inquiring about the domestic disturbance call.  The point is that incriminating evidence left in plain view of law enforcement often can be seized and forms the basis for a further search.  The initial plain view seizure of evidence often will create a legal basis for obtaining a warrant to seek additional evidence that can be used to prosecute a criminal case.

Our experienced Florida criminal defense attorneys frequently challenge the probable cause for a search, the legal sufficiency of a warrant or affidavit to obtain a warrant or the actual manner and scope of a search.  Many times we are able to get critical evidence in Florida drug crimes cases excluded because of deficiencies in a warrant, probable cause, procedures in conducting a search or other basis.  The Boim case is an example of a citizen leaving evidence of illegal drug cultivation and marijuana possession in the open so that an officer present on a totally unrelated matter was able to lawfully conduct a warrantless seizure of the evidence. The plain view exception to the search warrant requirement is well entrenched in the law.  If the police observe criminal activity or drugs, then the police do not need to obtain a search warrant to seize the evidence.

In a plain view case, a motion to suppress the evidence is much more complicated.  If you are charged with a drug crime involving any illegal drug including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, PCP, mushrooms or any other illegal drug, it is important to seek legal advice from a Florida drug defense attorney.  Our Florida DUI defense lawyers carefully examine how evidence was obtained and look for a basis to suppress critical evidence, which often results in a reduction or dismissal of charges against our clients.

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