In Florida, the Constitutional protection against illegal searches and seizures by police is strongest when it involves a person’s privacy interest in his/her residence. Normally, a police officer cannot search a person’s house, apartment or other residence without a valid search warrant or consent to search by a person authorized to give consent to search the home. This protection against illegal searches and seizures also extends to a person’s backyard.
In a recent marijuana case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the police received an anonymous tip that three individuals were outside of a particular house standing next to a white SUV with cocaine and guns. The police arrive and saw the SUV and some people in front of the house, but they did not see anyone matching the description in the anonymous tip nor did they see any drugs or guns.
One of the police officers said he heard voices coming from behind the house. The police officers proceeded to walk through the gate and into the backyard to see if anyone there was armed. While in the backyard, the police officers saw marijuana in the house through a window and arrested the defendant who was also in the house with the marijuana.
This was clearly an illegal search. The anonymous tip gives the police the right to go to the house and investigate the tip but little else. If the police do not observe any activity that verifies the criminal conduct referenced in the anonymous tip (i.e. the drugs and guns), the police are not permitted to search the house, anyone at the house or the backyard without a search warrant or consent. When the police arrived at the house, there was no evidence of criminal activity. As a result, the police were not permitted to go into the house or the backyard. The fact that people may be behind the house in the backyard in an area protected from illegal searches and seizures did not give the police the authority to search the backyard without specific evidence of criminal activity in the backyard and a valid search warrant. The police had neither. As a result, evidence of the marijuana was thrown out of court, and the marijuana charges were dropped.