In Florida, the police are not permitted to search a person’s belongings unless the police officer has consent to search from someone authorized to provide such consent, the officer has probable cause in certain circumstances or the officer has a search warrant. Police officers often assume they can search a pill bottle because they believe there will be illegal drugs inside, but the existence of a pill bottle does not automatically entitled a police officer to search it.
In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police officer stopped the defendant driver for driving erratically. Upon approaching the defendant’s vehicle, the police officer asked the driver if he could search his vehicle. The defendant agreed. The police officer found a pill bottle next to the driver’s seat. The police officer noted the bottle had the driver’s name on it and drug information for the drug Suboxone. However, the police officer said he could see into the bottle and recognized that one of the pills was Xanax and he did not recognize the other pill. Because the Xanax pill did not match the drug description on the bottle, the police officer opened the pill bottle and ultimately determined that the other pill was Oxycodone. The driver was arrested for possession of Oxycodone and Alprazolam (Xanax).
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the Xanax and Oxycodone arguing that the police officer did not have a legal basis to search the pill bottle. Consent to search the car is not the same as consent to search every container within the car. The question, then, was the police officer had probable cause to search the pill bottle without permission. The court ruled that the police officer did have a legal basis to search the pill bottle. Assuming the police officer’s testimony to be true, because the police officer could see that the pills in the bottle did not match the description of the pills on the bottle, there was reason to believe the defendant was in possession of drugs without a proper prescription. The court basically ruled that if a person has pills in a container that is not designated for that particular drug, the police will have a right to search the container and make an arrest. As a result, the conviction for possession of Oxycodone and Xanax was affirmed.
This does not mean that the police can search any pill container they see in the possession of a person. A pill container is certainly not evidence of criminal activity no matter what a police officer might assume. However, if the police officer testifies to specific, incriminating facts regarding the pill bottle, as in this case, the court may allow such a search.