Every now and then, as criminal defense lawyers in Jacksonville, Florida, we get possession of drug or drug trafficking cases that involve someone sending a package containing drugs through the mail. Sometimes, the package of illegal drugs is actually addressed to a specific person. Other times, the drug package is addressed anonymously (i.e. to “Resident”) or addressed to a fake person. A question often arises as to if and when the police are allowed to open the package and search it. Sometimes, someone at the mail facility notices that the package is suspicious and contacts the police. Other times, the police might have officers at the facility looking for specific packages. Drug packages can be suspicious based on how they are addressed, where they are from and how they are packaged.
A possession of marijuana case near Jacksonville, Florida involved a box of marijuana that was sent to a friend of the defendant through the United States Post Office. The package came from California which is one of the suspicious factors the police look for. The package was sent to an apartment, but the name on the package did not match anyone who was listed as a resident at the apartment complex. That was another red flag. The renter of the apartment, a friend of the defendant’s, accepted the package and signed for it in the name of the person listed on the package, which was not her true name. The police were involved with the delivery of the marijuana package and confronted the woman about it. She said she was accepting the package for a friend. She then gave the police consent to open it and search it. The police found a couple of pounds of marijuana in the package. The woman then texted the defendant and told him the package was ready for him to retrieve. When he arrived, he was arrested for conspiracy to possess marijuana.
There were a few search and seizure issues involved in this case. The criminal defense attorney for the defendant filed a motion to suppress the marijuana evidence arguing that since the package did not belong to the woman, she did not have the legal authority to give the police consent to open it. Generally, people do not have the legal authority to give consent to search things that do not belong to them. In such cases, the police would need to get consent from the owner of the property or get a valid search warrant for the package.
However, that issue worked against the defendant as well. In order for a defendant to have the legal authority to challenge a search and seizure by police, the defendant must have what is referred to as standing- a sufficient interest in the item to be searched or the premises so that he has a reasonable expectation of privacy. In cases such as this involving mail, the defendant would have standing if the box was addressed to him or sent by him. People have a right to expect that the mail they send and receive is private. He might also have had standing if the package was sent to his residence. Even if the package is not addressed to a person who lives at a residence, the occupant of the residence still might have a right to privacy in items sent to his home. In this case, the package was not sent by the defendant, addressed to the defendant or sent to his residence. For those reasons, he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the package. Therefore, even if the search of the box and the seizure of the marijuana were illegal, the defendant did not have the legal right to make a challenge. The marijuana evidence could then be used against the defendant in court.