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Bondsman Assists Police with Marijuana Cultivation Arrest in Florida

In most drug cases, particularly cases where the police arrest someone for manufacturing or growing marijuana, the case starts out with the police getting a tip that the suspect is growing marijuana in his home or on his property. The police conduct surveillance, check the trash, check electricity bills for a spike in activity due to the increased lighting and ventilation, and other investigative techniques to try and determine if the information is reliable. The police also often just walk up to the door, knock and see if the resident will answer questions or consent to a search.

In a marijuana case near Jacksonville, Florida, a person who was on bond missed court so his bondsman went to look for him. The bondsman went to the last known address of the person and another suspect answered the door. The bondsman asked if he could search the house to look for the person. The suspect agreed, and the bondsman found a marijuana grow operation inside. The suspect was fairly open about his marijuana cultivation with the bondsman. A bondsman is not a police officer, and does not work for the state. His job is normally to find people who are on bond who have missed court so they can be surrendered to the jail or otherwise made to come to court. A bondsman would not necessarily care about someone else committing a crime.

However, this bondsman decided to cal the police and tell them about the marijuana grow operation he saw. The police came to the house and searched it without valid consent. The police were apparently also in the process of obtaining a search warrant based on the evidence provided by the bondsman that was confirmed by the first police officer to respond, but they searched the house before the search warrant was signed.

The suspect at the house was arrested for cultivation of marijuana. His criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress arguing that the police did not have a right to enter and search the house without first getting a search warrant. The court disagreed. The court did acknowledge that the police should have obtained a search warrant, but the doctrine of inevitable discovery applied and the search was determined to be lawful despite the failure to get a search warrant.

In Florida, the doctrine of inevitable discovery may apply where the state can show that at the time of the constitution violation (here, when the police entered the house without a search warrant), an investigation was already underway and the police had sufficient information about the alleged criminal activity that the police would have obtained the evidence anyway. In this case, the court found that the police already had sufficient information from the bondsman and initial responding officer to get a search warrant so they would have been able to search the house anyway. Therefore, the marijuana evidence was permitted to be used against the defendant.

It does not seem right that the police are required to get a search warrant to enter a person’s house and when they do not get one, the court days it is fine as long as they would have been able to get one later, even though they did not. However, that is pretty much what the doctrine of inevitable discovery says when it justifies a police search in these situations.