Can Police Search Your Office and Desk at Work?

Most people in Florida understand that they have a strong privacy right in their homes. As a result, police are generally not allowed to come in and search a person’s home without a search warrant or consent. However, does this strong protection against unreasonable searches and seizures extend to the workplace in Florida?

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida the defendant was charged with kidnapping, armed sexual battery, robbery and other charges. After the incident, the victim identified the defendant in a photo lineup. As part of their investigation, the police went to the defendant’s place of work, which was a hotel where he was a manager and shared an office and a desk with another employee. Without the defendant’s knowledge, the police asked the defendant’s employer if they could search his office desk. The defendant’s manager gave the police consent to search his desk, and they found the victim’s cell phone in one of the drawers.

The defendant’s criminal defense attorney filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the victim’s cell phone claiming that the police did not have a right to search the defendant’s desk without a search warrant or consent from the defendant. He also claimed that the general manager did not have the right to give the police consent to search his desk.

The question was whether the defendant had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his desk. If so, the police could not search it without a search warrant or consent from the defendant. The court found that the search was valid. The court decided that because the defendant shared an office and the desk with another employee, he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the office or the desk. Also, other employees of the hotel had full access to the office and the desk. As a result, the general manager’s consent to search the office and desk was sufficient for a legal search.

This does not mean that the police can go to any workplace and search offices and desks without a search warrant if they have the employer’s permission. If a person has an office that is locked and/or a desk that is locked and not freely accessible by others, than the police would likely need a search warrant or consent from the defendant to search that office and desk.

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