A circuit court judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit heard a lengthy motion to suppress in a Miami marijuana trafficking case. The defendant is charged with operating a marijuana grow house in an efficiency apartment. The apartment is attached a family-sized residence. The only entrance is a side door. There is no entrance to the efficiency from inside the residence. A Miami criminal attorney filed a motion to suppress the contents of the efficiency including 18 marijuana plot, two bags of cultivated marijuana, checks and other financial statements belonging to the defendant. If the court grants the motion to suppress, all of evidence in the case becomes inadmissible and the state will have no choice, but to nolle prosse or dismiss the charges.
Defense counsel argued that the warrant obtained by the narcotics detectives violated the defendant's Fourth Amendments rights. Detectives from the Miami-Dade Police Department received an anonymous tip that the efficiency owner was selling drugs from the property. The detectives drove to the residence and parked their vehicles on the street. The residence was surrounded on all four sides. The front of the residence was guarded by a chain link fence that had three gates. Two of the gates allowed access to the driveways. The third gate allowed access to the front door. The police officers gained access through a two foot opening in one of the gates for the driveway. After the detectives entered the property, they noticed an odor of marijuana coming from the residence as they approached the front door. The detectives attempted to make contact with the homeowner, to no avail, noone was home.
The lead detective filled out a search warrant which was executed by the duty judge. The judge signed the warrant which was then executed by the narcotics detectives. After knocking down the door of the efficiency, the detectives located processed marijuana and a fully functional grow house. At the motion to suppress, counsel argued that the detectives violated the efficiency owner's constitutional rights. The laws of the United States and the State of Florida require that a warrant is required to search a residence. To obtain a warrant, the police have to establish that probable cause that a crime was committed in order to secure a warrant. Of course, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement such as consent, exigent circumstances and automobile. As none of the exceptions existed, the detectives were required to get a warrant. The smell of marijuana gave the detectives the requisite probable case to get a warrant. However, the main question is whether the police officers were legally on the property when they gathered the probable case.
The 4th Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. A person is entitled to those protections when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The law in the State of Florida holds that a home owner has a reasonable expectation of privacy when the house is surrounded by a fence or some other structure. If a residence is not surrounded by a fence or other object, the police are entitled to approach the front door and even stand on the porch. In the case being argued, the house was surrounded by a fence, but one of the gates was left opened approximately two feet. The Miami defense lawyer argued that the homeowner had a reasonable expectation of privacy even if the gate was left open. The prosecution argued to the contrary. Florida law does not distinguish between opened a closed gates, but merely that the fence surround the house. With that being the case, the judge should grant the motion to suppress the evidence. The current state of the law can be used to protect those arrested for narcotics cases such as cocain trafficking and marijuana trafficking.