A Florida trafficking in cocaine case was recently thrown out due to the illegal search by the police officer. In this case, the police officer responded to a domestic battery call where the suspect was possibly armed with a handgun. The police officer saw the suspect near the apartment and called to him. The suspect ran and was caught near a vehicle that supposedly belonged to him. The police officer arrested the suspect and searched him but found nothing. After the suspect was placed in the patrol car, the police officer searched his vehicle and found a trafficking amount of cocaine.
The criminal defense lawyer for the suspect filed a motion to suppress alleging that the search of the defendant’s vehicle where the cocaine was found was illegal. The judge agreed and threw out the evidence of the cocaine.
The law has changed on this issue recently. In the past, the police officer could always search a person’s vehicle if he/she is arrested near that vehicle, for instance during a traffic stop. However, now, if a person is arrested near his/her vehicle but at the time of the arrest has been secured and is not within arm’s reach of that vehicle, the police officer does not have an automatic right to search the vehicle. In other words, if the suspect has no way of getting into his/her vehicle, there is no officer safety issue and the police officer cannot just search it automatically. If the officer has reason to believe that there is evidence of the crime for which the suspect has been arrested in that vehicle, then the officer may have a right to search it. But, the police officer’s search is no longer automatic when a person gets arrested at or near his/her vehicle. If the police search the vehicle of someone who has been arrested and secured without specific facts suggesting there is evidence in that vehicle, any evidence of a crime found in the vehicle should be thrown out.