In a recent drug case that occurred south of Jacksonville, Florida, police had information that heroin, marijuana and other illegal drugs were being kept and sold at a particular house. The police conducted surveillance of the house and saw one person exit the house and sell drugs to a customer. The police ultimately arrested that person for sale of heroin in the front yard of the house. Upon arrest, the police observed that the front door was open and people were in the house. The police went inside the house without a search warrant and found more heroin, marijuana and other drugs. The other occupants of the house were then also arrested for trafficking and possession of heroin and illegal drugs.
The criminal defense lawyer for the defendants filed a motion to suppress evidence of the seized drugs based on the fact that the police search of the house was unlawful. The general rule is that police cannot enter and search a person’s house without consent or a valid search warrant. There are exceptions. For instance, when the police make an arrest, they are permitted to search the immediate area to make sure there are not any threats to the safety of the officers. This is called a protective sweep. However, the police cannot do this automatically. There must be evidence indicating there is may be some threat to the police officers. In this case, there was no specific evidence indicating that there was anything in the house that was a threat to the police officers who made the arrest outside of the house. There was no evidence that anyone in the house was armed or any threat to any police officer. As a result, the police did not have a right to enter and search the house for drugs without consent or a search warrant. Because the search was unlawful, all of the evidence of the heroin, marijuana and other drugs in the house was thrown out.