In Florida, there are generally two common bases that allow a police officer to search a person, vehicle, residence or anything else in which a person has a privacy right. If a person consents to a police search, the police can search pursuant to the terms of the consent. If the police go to a judge with probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime and the judge agrees, the police can search pursuant to a search warrant. Most searches are conducted based on one of those two reasons. However, there are other situations where a police officer can search a person, vehicle or residence without consent and without a search warrant.
One situation occurs when there is a medical emergency. For instance, if a person has a seizure in his bed and his friend flags down a police officer outside, the police officer can probably come into the house and check on the person. If the police officer happens to see a bag of marijuana or cocaine in the room and makes an arrest, there is a good chance that search and seizure will be upheld. However, a search based on a medical emergency has its limits.
In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the mother of the defendant called the police because the defendant appeared to be passed out in his room next to some pills. However, when the polcie arrived, the defendant was outside in front of the house. The police officer asked the defendant some questions, and he did not appear to need medical treatment. The police officer noticed a pill bottle in his pants. The defendant said it was blood pressure medication. The police officer then told the defendant to give him the pill bottle. The defendant complied, and the police officer determined that the pill bottle contained illegal pills. He arrested the defendant, and later found a bag of marijuana on him.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the illegal drugs and the marijuana arguing that the police officer did not have a legal basis to request the pill bottle and seize the marijuana. The court agreed and threw out the evidence of the illegal pills and marijuana. When the police officer arrived and questioned the defendant, it became clear there was no longer a medical emergency. As a result, the police officer could not use the medical emergency as a basis to request the pill bottle or search the defendant. Without consent or a search warrant, there was no valid basis for the search.
This case may have been different if the defendant was still having medical problems when the police officer arrived. A police officer would probably be within his/her rights to retrieve a pill bottle on a person having urgent medical issues to try and determine the cause. However, once the medical emergency appears to be over, the police officer cannot use it as an excuse for a search and seizure.