There is a search and seizure rule in Florida that many people are not aware of that can be quite onerous, depending on how it is applied. It is called the inevitable discovery rule. To understand the rule, it is important to first understand your rights. The Constitution guarantees a person the right to privacy in one’s home, vehicle and other property. This means the police cannot search a person’s property without consent to search, a valid search warrant or some other narrow exception. If the police do search a person’s property without authorization, any incriminating evidence can be thrown out of court with a motion to suppress.
However, the inevitable discovery rule gives the state an avenue to save their case even when the search is illegal. Basically, it says that even if the police conduct an illegal search and find incriminating evidence like illegal drugs, the state can still use the evidence against the defendant if the police would have discovered the evidence anyway by some other legal means. This rule has been applied to save a lot of criminal cases when the search was illegal.
However, there are limitations to the inevitable discovery rule in Florida. For instance, the rule only applies if there is a legitimate investigation taking place when the illegal search is conducted. For instance, in a case near Jacksonville, Florida, a guest in the defendant’s home saw that he was growing marijuana plants in the home and called the police. Several police officers came to the defendant’s home wearing masks with guns drawn and obtained consent to search the house. They found the marijuana plants inside and arrested the defendant for cultivation of marijuana.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the marijuana plants arguing that the police obtained the consent by intimidation and had no other legal basis to enter the home. The judge agreed that the consent was obtained by force, but still allowed the evidence of the marijuana plants based on the inevitable discovery rule. The judge ruled that the police could have obtained a search warrant for the house if consent to search was not given and discovered the marijuana plants that way. So, it was inevitable that they would have been able to enter the house and find the marijuana plants.
The obvious practical problem is that the rule excluding evidence in court when police do not follow the rules and conduct illegal searches was designed to deter the police from conducting illegal searches. If the judge finds a search to be illegal but lets the evidence in anyway, it does not do much to deter illegal police conduct nor protect a person’s constitutional right to privacy.
Fortunately, Florida courts recognize a limitation to the inevitable discovery rule. In order for it to apply, an investigation has to be underway at the time of the illegal search that would have resulted in a valid search of the property. In this case, the police had no idea about the marijuana plants before the call. Additionally, they made no attempt to obtain a search warrant before they obtained the flawed consent and illegally searched the home. Since there was no investigation underway beforehand and no attempt to start one by applying for a search warrant, the inevitable discovery rule did not apply. The evidence of the marijuana plants was thrown out, and the marijuana charge was dismissed.