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An Example of an Illegal Search of a Person for Drugs

The following situation occurred south of Jacksonville, Florida and involved an illegal search of a person for drugs. The person was the passenger of a vehicle that was stopped due to an inoperable taillight. The police officer suspected that the occupants of the vehicle may have had drugs or stashed drugs in the vehicle because of what the officer described as suspicious movement made by the occupants after being stopped by the police officer. The police officer had a drug dog who walked around the vehicle. The drug dog did not alert to the odor of illegal drugs. The police officer then asked for consent to search the driver. The driver agreed. While the police officer was searching the driver, a second police officer arrived and told the passenger that he was going to be searched and asked him he he had anything on him. The passenger reached into his pocket and gave the second police officer a pill bottle with some marijuana and illegal prescription drugs. He was then arrested for drug possession.

Is this a valid search and seizure of drugs from the passenger? No. First, the police officer did not have a reasonable basis to search the passenger so the State could not argue that they would have located the drugs anyway pursuant to a legal search. Additionally, when the passenger gave the police officer the drugs, that was not voluntary because he was submitting to police authority after the police officer told the passenger he would be searched anyway. The important points are that a police officer can always ask a person if the officer can search him or her. The person can always refuse. If a person voluntarily consents to a search or gives a police officer drugs or other evidence of a crime, that evidence will likely be used against that person to effect an arrest and in court. However, if a person succumbs to police authority, as in this case, his/her actions may not be voluntary and any evidence that is discovered may be suppressed.