Florida Search And Search Law — Automobile

In a very recent Florida appellate case, a line was drawn between when a citizen suspected of possession of controlled substance is merely cooperating with law enforcement or if he or she becomes a agent of law enforcement that could result in the suppression of evidence the “agent” of law enforcement obtains from another individual. (This case involves juveniles so initials are used rather than names in accordance with Florida law).

In State v. C.D.M., 35 Fla. Law Weekly D2581, Case No. 2D09-4236, November 24, 2010, an officer had stopped two juveniles in a vehicle for a traffic violation. The officer smelled marijuana and asked the driver, C.C. to step out of the car. The officer told the juvenile driver, C.C., that he could smell the marijuana and things might go better for him if he cooperated and gave the officer any marijuana that might be in the car. C.C. decided to cooperate and went back to the car and asked his juvenile companion, C.D. M. to give him the marijuana, which C.D.M. did. C.C. testified at the motion to suppress hearing that he felt he had no choice but to comply with the officer’s request. (If CC was an agent of law enforcement C.D.M.’s consent to provide the marijuana to C.C. would have been found to be a coercive, involuntary consent).

The trial court suppressed the marijuana evidence against C.D.M. holding that C.C. had acted as an “agent” of the police when C.C. went back to the car and obtained the marijuana from C.D.M. and thus C.D.M.’s consent was involuntary.

The Florida appellate court said the trial court was wrong in it’s holding. That merely because C.C. said he felt he had no choice but to oblige the officer, he was not acting as an “agent” of the officer because the officer had no idea that C.C. himself was not going to retrieve the marijuana the car nor did the officer think that C.D.M. was holding the marijuana. See Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 448, (1971)(even if a citizen feels obliged to assist law enforcement, it is not part of the policy underlying the 4th and 14th Amendment to discourage citizens from aiding law enforcement in apprehending criminals).

Both juveniles were ultimately charged with possessing marijuana. The appellate court found that merely because the officer asked CC to obtain the marijuana from the car CC was not acting as an agent of law enforcement and the marijuana charge alleged against C.D.M. was valid.

To read other search and seizure articles please see other articles in this blog or the published article section of the Law Offices of M. James Jenkins, P.A.