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The Florida Supreme Court just decided a case where a bail bondsman entered a home, then searched behind a locked door. Inside the room, which we will call a “grow room”, they found a growing operation. The one-room operation was cultivating – call it: cannabis, hemp, sinsemilla; pot, dope, grass, weed, Mary Jane, bud, bhang, kef, ganja, locoweed, reefer, doob, or spliff. The not-so-friendly bail bondsman backed off and then called the cops. The cops arrived and allegedly got consent to search. The appeals court initially ruled that the consent was coerced by the show of force from the police.
“application of the inevitable discovery doctrine was improper
and hold that the trial court should have
suppressed the evidence obtained from the illegal search.”
However, that court erroneously ruled that it was inevitable that the police would discover the grow room. The distinction in the case was that the police made no effort to get a search warrant. Therefore, the discovery of the grow room was not inevitable. The case was thrown out. The complete text of the opinion can be found at this link. We have included the most important excerpts from the case below.
“The state did not establish that the police officer or
any detective had made any efforts to obtain a search warrant”
Q & A | Excerpts from the Court Opinion
What Happens when a Bail Bondsman Opened a Grow Room Door and then Called the Cops?
The facts of this case were presented below: Several bail bondsmen were attempting to locate one of their clients. The client, who had been charged with marijuana cultivation in a different house, had listed the address of Mr. Rodriguez’s home on his application for the bond. When the bondsmen knocked on the front door of that home, Mr. Rodriguez answered. He told the bondsmen that he did not know their client and that he was alone in the home. The bondsmen requested permission to search the home to be certain their client was not hiding there, and Mr. Rodriguez consented.
Is the Odor of Cannabis a Lawful Basis to search a Home?
The bondsmen noticed a smell of marijuana in the home. Encountering a locked bedroom door, the bondsmen asked Mr. Rodriguez to open it so they could confirm that their client was not hiding there. Mr. Rodriguez unlocked the door and told the bondsmen that he was growing marijuana in the room. At that point, one of the bondsmen in the group moved outside and called the police to report what the bondsmen had observed.
whether you call it: cannabis, hemp, sinsemilla, pot, dope,
grass, weed, Mary Jane, bud, bhang, kef,
ganja, locoweed, reefer, doob, or spliff.
About thirty minutes later, a uniformed officer arrived at the home. The officer testified that Mr. Rodriguez invited him to enter. The officer saw the grow room, called the narcotics squad, and placed Mr. Rodriguez in handcuffs in the back of the officer’s squad car while they waited for the narcotics detectives to arrive. The bondsmen remained at that location throughout, and spoke to the lead detective when the narcotics unit arrived.
What is Consent to Search under Florida Law?
The lead detective testified that Mr. Rodriguez signed a form consenting to a search of the home. Mr. Rodriguez testified that he only signed the consent forms because the narcotics detectives had guns and most were also wearing masks. After their search confirmed the presence of a “grow room” containing six-foot marijuana plants, lights, and 36 pounds of marijuana, the detectives arrested Mr. Rodriguez.
The defense filed a motion to suppress. At the hearing on that motion, the circuit court heard testimony from the lead bondsman, the police officer who first responded to the call from the bondsmen, the lead narcotics unit detective, and Mr. Rodriguez. The state did not establish that the police officer or any detective had made any efforts to obtain a search warrant before law enforcement entered the home or Mr. Rodriguez was arrested. The lead detective did, however, testify that he would have sought a warrant if Mr. Rodriguez had not consented to the search.
What Happens When Consent to Search is Coerced?
The court denied the motion to suppress, although the court found that Mr. Rodriguez’s consent to entry by the police and detectives, and his signature on the consent form, were coerced. The court concluded that the inevitable discovery doctrine applied because probable cause had been established before law enforcement requested consent, and: Soon as the bail bondsman calls and says, Listen I’m looking at a hydroponics lab to me that’s a trigger. If they had not gotten consent they would have gone and gotten a warrant.
Following the denial of the motion to suppress, Mr. Rodriguez entered a guilty plea and reserved the right to appeal the suppression issue. He was adjudicated guilty and sentenced, and [then appealed to the Third District Court of Appeal].
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From the totality of the evidence, we find that the application of the inevitable discovery doctrine was improper and hold that the trial court should have suppressed the evidence obtained from the illegal search.
What is the Inevitable Discovery Rule?
Thus, the rule first requires a “reasonable probability” that the evidence would have been discovered despite the improper police procedure. United States v. Brookins, 614 F.2d 1037, 1042 (5th Cir. 1980). Second, the State cannot argue that some later or future investigation would have inevitably led to the discovery of the evidence; rather, the investigation must be ongoing and the State must show that the facts known by the police at the moment of the unconstitutional procedure would have led to the evidence notwithstanding the police misconduct. See Fitzpatrick, 900 So. 2d at 514; Moody, 842 So. 2d at 759.
The question before this Court is whether the inevitable discovery rule requires the prosecution to demonstrate that the police were in the process of obtaining a warrant prior to the misconduct or whether the prosecution need only establish that a warrant could have been obtained with the information available prior to the misconduct. We conclude that permitting warrantless searches without – 14 – the prosecution demonstrating that the police were in pursuit of a warrant is not a proper application of the inevitable discovery rule. The rule cannot function to apply simply when police could have obtained a search warrant if they had taken the opportunity to pursue one, but can only apply if they actually were in pursuit of one. Within the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule there is no room for probable cause to obviate the requirement to pursue a search warrant, for this would eliminate the role of the magistrate and replace judicial reasoning with the current sense impression of police officers.
Is a Search Warrant Required for a room in a House?
Further, this case involves the sanctity of the home—a bedrock of the Fourth Amendment and an area where a person should enjoy the highest reasonable expectation of privacy. The constitutional guarantee to freedom from warrantless searches is not an inconvenience to be dismissed in favor of claims for police and prosecutorial efficiency. While it is true that here the police were already in possession of the information leading to the evidence before the misconduct, they failed to pursue a legal means to attain this evidence. The police attempted to gain consent from Rodriguez to enter his home, but his consent was found to be coerced and invalid. With no valid consent, and no pursuit of a search warrant, there are no legal means present that would have led to the evidence. In this way, the discovery was not inevitable notwithstanding the police misconduct, and the rule cannot be applied.
What is the Exclusionary Rule?
Because the exclusionary rule works to deter police misconduct by ensuring that the prosecution is not in a better position as a result of the misconduct, the rule cannot be expanded to allow application where there is only probable cause and no pursuit of a warrant. If the prosecution were allowed to benefit in this way, police misconduct would be encouraged instead of deterred, and the rationale behind the exclusionary rule would be eviscerated. Where the prosecution has made no showing that a search warrant was being actively pursued prior to the occurrence of the illegal conduct, application of the inevitable discovery rule would effectively nullify the requirement of a search warrant under the Fourth Amendment. In sum, prosecutors may not be permitted to benefit from the violation of constitutional rights. We cannot apply the inevitable discovery rule in every case where the police had probable cause to obtain a warrant but simply failed to get one. Accordingly, the officers’ failure to seek a search warrant precludes the application of the inevitable discovery doctrine in this case.