The law regarding searches and seizures recently changed removing a fairly common justification for police to search a person’s vehicle after he/she has been arrested. Prior to the change in the law, police officers could search a person’s vehicle after arresting him/her for a crime in or near the vehicle. After the arrest, the police were permitted to search the vehicle compartment for illegal drugs, guns or any other evidence. However, the law changed and now prohibits police officers from automatically searching a person’s vehicle after an arrest in each case.
Under the new law, police are still allowed to search a vehicle after an occupant has been arrested but only in more limited circumstances. Now, after an occupant has been arrested, the police can only search the vehicle if the occupant is unsecured and within arm’s reach of the inside of the vehicle or if the police officer has a specific reason to believe there is evidence of a crime in the vehicle. This change in the law should significantly limit searches of vehicles after an occupant’s arrest when in the past it was basically automatically allowed. When the police officer arrests an occupant, the officer is going to handcuff that person and put him/her in the police car. It is rare for a person to be unsecured and near his/her vehicle after the arrest. This would eliminate the first basis for searching the vehicle in most cases. Of course, the second basis still may exist- that the police officer has a reason to believe there is evidence of a crime in the vehicle, but the police officer must have a specific reason for the search. The police officer cannot rely upon the belief that there must be evidence of drugs or other criminal activity in the vehicle just because they arrested an occupant of the vehicle fro a drug-related or other crime.
If the police in Florida do search a vehicle after they have arrested and secured an occupant without a specific basis for the search, the criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to suppress any evidence found as a result of the illegal search.