In Florida, police officers are allowed to search a person or his/her property in limited circumstances. One situation where a search is usually legal is when the owner of the property or the person with authority over the property gives the police consent to search the property. However, a person cannot give police consent to search property that is not his/hers or over which he/she does not have authority.
For example, in a possession of cocaine case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police pulled a vehicle over in a high crime and drug area. The police officer suspected the occupants of buying crack cocaine. There was a male driver and a female passenger in the vehicle. After some discussion, the police officer asked the driver if he could search his car. The driver agreed, and the police officer asked the driver and the passenger to step out of the car. The police officer did not find any drugs in the car, but he did find some drugs in a purse that was on the passenger seat. The police officer arrested the female passenger for possession of the cocaine found in the purse.
The criminal defense lawyer moved to suppress the evidence of the cocaine because the police officer did not have authority to search the purse. If a police officer gets consent to search a car from the driver or owner, that usually means he can search all over the car, the glove compartment and even containers in the car depending on whether the consent is limited or general. However, if an item or container likely belongs to someone else who did not give consent, the police officer cannot use the driver’s consent as authorization to search another person’s property. In this case, it should have been fairly obvious that the purse belonged to the female passenger. There was no evidence that the driver owned the purse or had authority to give consent to search the purse. If the police officer wanted to search the purse, he should have asked the person most likely authorized to give consent to search the purse. Because he did not, he did not get proper authorization to search the purse, and the evidence of the cocaine was suppressed. The possession of cocaine charge was dropped.