In a recent drug case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the police received a call that a black male wearing a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers was selling drugs beside a particular road. Police responded to the area and saw the defendant who met the general description. However, the police did not observe the defendant selling drugs or doing anything else that appeared to be illegal. One police officer drove right up to the defendant and put his spotlight on him while the other police officer asked the defendant some questions including permission to search the defendant for illegal drugs. The defendant emptied his pockets, and the police recovered a bag with cocaine inside. The defendant was arrested for possession of cocaine.
This was a bad search, and the criminal defense lawyer was able to file a motion to suppress the evidence that resulted in the evidence of the cocaine being thrown out. Every person has a Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. That means the police cannot just approach someone in an intimidating manner giving the impression that the person cannot leave and request a search for drugs or anything else. Likewise, the police cannot detain or search a person based on an anonymous tip of illegal activity if the police do not verify that the person is actually engaged in any illegal activity.
In this case, the police received an anonymous tip that someone was selling drugs. They found the person described in the tip, but the police officers did not see any evidence of illegal activity. When they drove up to the defendant, shined the spotlight on him and started interrogating him, that was considered a detention. Since the police did not have any reasonable suspicion that the defendant was doing anything illegal, it was an illegal detention and any cocaine or other evidence found by the police during the illegal detention was thrown out of court and the possession of cocaine charge was ultimately dropped.