Many drug cases in Florida are the result of police suspecting that a suspect has drugs and requesting that the defendant consent to a search of his/her vehicle, home, person or other belongings. People always have the right to refuse a police officer’s request to search, but people often allow the police to search anyway. When a person gives the police consent to search, as long as it is not under duress or after some search and seizure violation, that eliminates the need for the police to get a search warrant, have probable cause or rely on one of the few exceptions to the search warrant requirement. However, when a person gives the police consent to search, it is not a blank check for the police to search wherever they want and for whatever they want. A search by consent is limited to the area to which the consent applies and the nature of the item for which the police are looking.
As an example, in a possession of cocaine case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the police were investigating a robbery during which an I-phone was stolen. They tracked the I-phone to an apartment complex and started knocking on doors and requesting permission to come inside and search for it. The defendant in this case gave the police consent to search his apartment for the I-phone. The police went into the apartment and found the I-phone on a table. After that, they continued searching the apartment and found cocaine in a drawer. The defendant was arrested for possession of cocaine.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the cocaine arguing that the search conducted after the I-phone was located was illegal. The consent to search was limited to a search for the I-phone. Once the I-phone was located, the consent to search terminated. Therefore, without further evidence or additional consent, the police had no lawful basis to continue searching inside the apartment.
This was a situation where the search exceeded the cope of the consent. Another example where the police might exceed the scope of consent is when they search in places the item they are looking for could not be located. For example, if the police are looking for a stolen briefcase, they would not be permitted to search in a jewelry box.
Consent to search gives the police broad powers to invade a person’s privacy and search for evidence. However, a consensual search is limited, and where the police exceed that limit, any evidence located may be thrown out of court.