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Search and Seizure Law In Florida


The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and because of this, law enforcement or government agencies must obtain warrants before searching the private home or property of an individual. If evidence of criminal activity is discovered, but the searcher has no warrant, that evidence is not usable. If you believe that you have been the victim of an illegal search or seizure, contacting a criminal defense attorney may be a good idea.

Very Specific Requirements For Warrants

The major requirement for a warrant to be obtained is probable cause – one must establish, to the satisfaction of a magistrate, that there is enough evidence to justify a search or seizure of a person or place. In some states, there is some unofficial ‘leeway’ as to the discretion that law enforcement can exercise during a search – for example, a warrant with a vague description of what is to be seized might pass muster. In Florida this is not the case – law enforcement must describe in detail what they are searching for – if something is not within the scope of the warrant, it may not be seized.

There are certain exceptions to the warrant requirement, most commonly, the “plain view” doctrine. If a law enforcement officer is within the protected zone that is permitted to be searched under the warrant, and any kind of evidence of criminal activity exists there in ‘plain view’ – no physical searching required – it may be seized. Florida law explicitly holds that a law enforcement officer must be within the zone protected by the warrant in order to exercise this doctrine – if they, for example, view it from outside, through a window, the plain view doctrine does not apply.

Know Your Options

While unreasonable searches and seizures are unconstitutional, this does mean, of course, that reasonable searches of your person or property are perfectly acceptable, even if they infringe on your privacy rights. The public good is considered more important than your right to privacy in most instances, though the requirement of a warrant is considered to be an element designed to balance the two. That said, it is sadly not unheard of for law enforcement to conduct illegal searches, either due to mistake or sometimes due to pressure to get a conviction for a certain crime. It is critical to know your rights.

One of the most commonly cited pieces of Fourth Amendment-related jurisprudence is the so-called “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. The name comes from a U.S. Supreme Court case, Nardone v. U.S. (1939), which dealt with the reversal of convictions obtained on the strength of evidence gained by wiretapping. Because the evidence was obtained illegally, public policy prevents it from being used to convict anyone. If there is the potential spectre of an illegal search in your case, an experienced attorney may be able to claim this doctrine to help your case.

Call A West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer

Search and seizure laws seem easy, but there are several different details that can get confusing. Contacting a West Palm Beach criminal attorney at the firm of Perlet, Shiner, Melchiorre & Walsh, P.A. is a good first step to ensure that your rights are respected during the legal process – we will fight hard for you. Call our West Palm Beach office today to speak to an attorney.

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