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Is an Anticipatory Search Warrant Legal in Florida?

All residents of Florida, and the United States as a whole, are protected by the Fourth Amendment which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by police. One aspect of the law on searches and seizures generally requires police to obtain a search warrant before entering someone’s home to look for evidence. A search warrant must be based on specific evidence that gives the police probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime can be located in a particular place. Normally, when a Jacksonville, Florida police officer asks a judge to issue a search warrant, that police officer swears to knowledge of evidence providing probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime, such as marijuana or cocaine possession or trafficking, is currently located in a specific place, such as a suspect’s house.

What if a Jacksonville police officer suspects that illegal drugs, like a shipment of marijuana or cocaine, will be delivered to a particular location in the future? Can the police officer obtain a search warrant now for evidence of illegal drugs that may materialize later? This is referred to as an anticipatory search warrant- where the police allege that there is evidence indicating that drugs or other evidence will be at a specific place at a specific time in the future. Anticipatory search warrants are not automatically illegal, but they require an additional element.

As stated, in order for a regular search warrant for existing drugs or evidence to be valid, there must be probable cause to believe that the drugs or evidence are present at the specific place to be searched. For an anticipatory search warrant, where the drugs or evidence are not present when the search warrant is requested but expected to be present in the near future, the police officer must establish that some triggering event will occur that will cause the drugs or evidence to appear. For instance, in a drug trafficking investigation, a confidential informant may inform the police that a suspected drug dealer will be getting a shipment of marijuana, cocaine or some other drug delivered to his/her house or apartment. The triggering event would be the delivery of the drugs by some specified person. The police officer may request a search warrant now to search that location at some specified time in the future. In order for the search warrant to be valid, there must be probable cause not only to believe that the drugs will be at that particular location but also that the triggering event will occur. In other words, the police officer must show some specific evidence indicating that the triggering event, i.e. the delivery by the person, will take place in the relevant time frame. The police officer may not just generally assert that a delivery will be made at some point and obtain a search warrant.

In any case where a suspect’s home, car or other property has been searched pursuant to a search warrant in the Jacksonville, Florida area resulting in the seizure of drugs or other evidence, it is important to contact a law firm whose lawyers understand the search and seizure laws to see if Fourth Amendment rights were violated and a motion to suppress can be filed that would suppress any evidence obtained as a result of the illegal search warrant.