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Police Withholding Facts From Judge May Not Negate Search Warrant in Florida

In Florida, if the police want to come on to a person’s property to search it for drugs or other evidence of criminal activity, they normally need a valid search warrant signed by a judge. Alternatively, they can usually go up the residence, knock on the door and ask for consent from the homeowner or someone authorized to give consent. However, a person with drugs in his/her house or who otherwise would prefer not to have the government rummaging through their personal belongings might refuse to give such consent.

Whether the police have sufficient evidence to obtain a valid search warrant depends on the circumstances of each case. In a recent marijuana case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police, as is often the case when these kinds of cases start, received an anonymous tip that the defendant was growing marijuana on his property. The police went to his house, but they could not see anything because the defendant had a tall fence surrounding his property that was lined with fabric preventing anyone from seeing through the fence. The police then flew a helicopter over the property, but they did not see any marijuana. They did notice two sheds in the back yard. Next, the police looked through the trash bags that the defendant set out on the street. The trash bags revealed burnt marijuana blunts and large marijuana stems. The police took this information along with the fact that the defendant had prior drug convictions to a judge to get a search warrant for the property. They obtained a search warrant, searched the property and found that the defendant was growing marijuana in the sheds in his back yard. He was arrested on various cultivation and trafficking in marijuana charges.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the marijuana. When applying for the search warrant, the police failed to inform the judge that they flew over the property and did not see any indication of marijuana cultivation or possession. The criminal defense attorney argued that the search warrant was invalid because the police misled the issuing judge when they failed to disclose this information. If the police omit certain facts to mislead a judge in issuing a search warrant and the omitted facts negate the probable cause the police seemingly have without the omitted facts, then the evidence the police find as a result of the search warrant is inadmissible.

The court agreed that the police should have disclosed the information about not seeing any marijuana in the helicopter. However, the court also found that there was sufficient probable cause for the search warrant even with that information so the search warrant was valid and the state could use the evidence found during the search against the defendant.