In a recent marijuana case out of South Florida, the court threw out the evidence of the defendant’s marijuana possession because the police used an unreasonable show of force to gain access to the defendant’s residence. In this case, six police officers went to the defendant’s home because he had several recent encounters with the police. The police officers showed up at the defendant’s home without a search warrant. The officers knocked on the door and told the defendant they had a tip that he was cultivating marijuana in the residence. They asked the defendant if they could search his house for marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. The defendant consented, and the police officers found marijuana growing in his garage.
The defendant was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and other related charges. However, in court his criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress, or throw out, all of the evidence of the marijuana because the police used an unreasonable show of force in getting him to consent to the police search.
In general, if the police ask to search something (i.e. a person, vehicle, home) for illegal drugs and the subject agrees, the police have a right to conduct that search without a search warrant. However, the police are not permitted to use intimidation, force or the threat of force to obtain that consent to search. Therefore, consent may become invalid not just due to actual force by police but also based on circumstances that make a person feel like he/she has no choice but to consent. In this case, the fact that several police officers confronted and surrounded the defendant was evidence of an unreasonable show of force and invalidated his consent. If the police had a justifiable reason to believe the defendant had marijuana in the house, they should have taken the appropriate steps to obtain a search warrant prior to searching the house.