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Police Cannot Claim Protective Sweep as a Basis to Search a Person’s House When No Threat Exists

Police officers in Jacksonville, Florida or other areas of Florida may search a person’s house after an arrest based on the idea that someone else may still be in the house who poses a threat to the police officers. This kind of search is known as a protective sweep.

For instance, let’s assume that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is serving an arrest warrant for a drug crime on a person at his house. The JSO officers have reason to believe the person is in the house. They are allowed in the house and arrest the person and find no other drugs or evidence of criminal activity. They take the suspect to the police car in handcuffs. They have no reason to believe anyone else is in the house. But, since the suspect has been arrested on a drug crime-related warrant, the police decide to go back in the house to see if anyone else is there and keep an eye out for illegal drugs or guns. Once back inside, the police find marijuana and crack cocaine on a table. Can the Jacksonville police use this drug evidence against the suspect on new drug charges? No.

This search is not valid. Police officers can conduct a protective sweep search of a house if they have a reasonable belief that there is a person(s) in the house who poses a threat to them. This reasonable belief of a threat must be based on actual facts. If the police do not have specific facts suggesting a threat inside the house, they cannot search the house once the arrest warrant has been served. Additionally, if the police do have specific facts suggesting a threat remains in the house, they can only go in for the limited time and purpose of finding and dealing with that specific threat. It is not a license to go back in the house and search for illegal drugs, guns or other evidence.

Citizens enjoy a lot of protections with regard to their homes. Police officers are limited in their legal authority to search one’s home. If you have questions about your rights regarding a police officer’s search of your home for drugs or other evidence, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.