In most cases in Florida, the police cannot search a person’s property without a search warrant or consent to search. Probable cause alone is often insufficient for a search. However, there are situations where a search warrant or consent to search are not needed.
In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police responded to a domestic violence call. The defendant’s girlfriend called the police and said the defendant threatened her with a gun. The police arrived and took a statement from the girlfriend in which she said the defendant threatened her with a gun and then placed the gun in his vehicle. Based on that statement, the defendant was arrested for aggravated assault. The police then took the defendant’s car keys, searched the trunk of his vehicle and found a gun inside. The defendant was then arrested for the additional charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon because he had previously been convicted of a felony.
The defendant’s criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the firearm arguing that the police did not have the right to search his car without consent or a search warrant. The court allowed the search because they found the girlfriend’s statement about the gun being in the vehicle gave the police sufficient probable cause to search the vehicle. Normally, the police would then have to take that probable cause and get a search warrant. However, the rules are different for motor vehicles because they can be easily moved while the police take the time to get a search warrant. Because of the vehicle’s mobility, the automobile exception allows the police to search a vehicle at times with probable cause but without a search warrant.