In a recent criminal case involving a burglary near Jacksonville, Florida the police received information that items recently stolen during a burglary were located in the suspect’s residence. The police waited outside the suspect’s apartment until he arrived home in his vehicle. They approached the suspect and asked him if they could search his apartment for the stolen items. The suspect apparently consented to a search of his apartment. The police officers presented the suspect with a standard form to sign signifying his consent to the search. The consent to search form was broad and included places other than the apartment, such as his vehicle. The suspect signed the form but not before crossing out his vehicle on the form.
The police then searched the apartment as the suspect apparently permitted. They found items stolen in the burglary in his apartment. Then, the police arrested the suspect and searched his vehicle which was parked on the street. They found more stolen items and evidence in the vehicle.
During the criminal case, the criminal defense lawyer made a motion to suppress the evidence found in the vehicle on the grounds that the search of the vehicle was illegal. The court ultimately agreed with the criminal defense attorney and the evidence found in the defendant’s vehicle was thrown out.
There are a couple of important points to understand here. First, if the police do not have a search warrant and there are not emergency circumstances necessitating an immediate search, the police do not have a right to search you, your home or your vehicle. They have to get you to agree to a search under those circumstances. If the police ask you for consent to search anything of yours, you have every right to say no. Additionally, if you give consent to search one thing, that doesn’t necessarily give the police the right to search anything else, although if they find something incriminating during the initial agreed upon search, it could lead to further valid searches. If in doubt, the best course of action is to decline a request to search.
In this case, the suspect did give the police consent to search his apartment. And the police found incriminating evidence that was used to charge him with a crime. However, he specifically refused the police permission to search his vehicle so any search of his vehicle was illegal. There are times when a police officer can search a person’s vehicle pursuant to an arrest, but in this case, the vehicle was outside and away from the suspect when he was arrested so that exception did not apply.