Florida Illegal Seizure Leads to Suppression of Cocaine

In Florida, evidence that is obtain as a result of an unlawful search or seizure can be suppressed. Normally, a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer will analyze the case to determine whether an illegal search or seizure has occurred. If one has taken place, the Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer will likely filing a motion to suppress any evidence retrieved due to such conduct.

For instance, the Florida Third District Court of Appeals held that the defendant’s motion to suppress should have been granted, because the cocaine that she was charged with possessing was found as a result of unlawful police detention. In Hidelgo v. State, Ms. Hidelgo was the passenger of a vehicle that was stopped due to a traffic violation. She and the driver consented to a search of the vehicle. During this search, police patted down Ms. Hidelgo, handcuffed her, and placed her in the police car. The police did not find anything in the vehicle, and Ms. Hidelgo and the driver were free to leave. After this, an officer searched the back of the car in which Ms. Hidelgo was held. He found a plastic bag with cocaine. The officers stopped the vehicle once again and arrested Ms. Hildelgo. She was charged with Florida Possession of Cocaine.

The Florida Third District Court of Appeals ruled that the stop and search of the vehicle were legitimate. Although Ms. Hidelgo consented to the search of the vehicle, the State of Florida did not present evidence to establish that she “consented to being handcuffed and place by herself in the back of a police vehicle for a lengthy period of time.” She was treated as if she was under arrest as she was not free to leave.

Under Florida Law, a law enforcement officer may detain an occupant during a valid search of the premises in order to:

  1. prevent flight in the event that incriminating evidence is found;
  2. minimize the risk of violence to officers or others; and
  3. orderly complete a search.  
However, police must use the least restrictive means to do so.  Police cannot routinely handcuff a person to conduct an investigatory stop.  Their actions must be reasonable in response to the situation.  In fact, “absent other threatening circumstances, once the pat down reveals the absence of weapons, the handcuffs should be removed.”  The court found that “valid consent to search a vehicle does not authorize law enforcement officers to order the occupants out of the vehicle and place them in handcuffs for a lengthy period of time in the back of the police vehicle.”  

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