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If a Suspect in Florida Throws Evidence Away, it Becomes Abandoned Property and Fair Game for Police

It is pretty clear in Florida that a police officer cannot search a suspect for drugs or other evidence of illegal activity without a proper legal basis such as consent, probable cause or a valid arrest. A police officer might be able to do a quick pat down of a suspect if there is some evidence of criminal activity and that leads more evidence which can lead to a more thorough search. However, there has to be some specific information indicating criminal activity before a search can commence, unless the suspect agrees to a search. That applies to a person’s body and clothes as well as his/her possessions. it does not apply to property that has been abandoned under the law.

As an example, in a trafficking in cocaine case near Jacksonville, Florida, the suspect was stopped by police while driving. After it became clear the police officer was investigating the suspect for a drug related crime, the suspect threw a small bag out of the car window. The police officer probably did not have a legal basis to search the vehicle or the suspect at that point, but he walked around the car and retrieved the bag which contained cocaine. The suspect was arrested for trafficking in cocaine. The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the bag of cocaine arguing that the police officer did not have probable cause to search the vehicle or the bag that came from the vehicle. The court disagreed. Once the suspect threw the bag away from the vehicle, under Florida law, that bag became abandoned, and the police have a right to search abandoned property.

This comes up in other situations as well. One common scenario occurs when the police believe a suspect is growing marijuana or otherwise manufacturing drugs in his/her home. The police will often go through a person’s trash outside to see if they can find discarded items that are commonly used to manufacture drugs. As long as the property is trash and the police do not have to enter a person’s property to retrieve it, this is normally considered abandoned property that police can search and seize without a search warrant. Of course, the police cannot go into your house or garage or otherwise trespass on to your property to take your trash, but if you leave a trashcan out on the curb for pickup, that is something the police can likely go through.