Generally speaking, law enforcement does not have a right to search a residence without either a search warrant or consent to search given by the owner of the residence. Any evidence obtained without a warrant or consent will have occurred in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and said evidence will be prohibited from use by the State in its prosecution. However, there are some exceptions to the general rule.
One such exception is the inevitable discovery doctrine. It requires the prosecution to prove “by a preponderance of the evidence that the information ultimately or inevitably would have been discovered by lawful means.” Nix v. Williams, 467 U.S. 431, 444 (1984). With regards to the potential for the evidence to have been discoverable by use of a search warrant, the State must further prove that law enforcement was in the process of obtaining a warrant. Rodriguez v. State, 187 So. 3d 841 (Fla. 2015). “We conclude that permitting warrantless searches without 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.” Id. at 849.
O’Hare v. State
In O’Hare v. State, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D335d (Fla. 5th DCA 2019), the trial court had denied O’Hare’s Motion to Suppress by applying the inevitable discovery doctrine to the illegal search conducted by law enforcement. Essentially, O’Hare was suspected of possessing child pornography on his computer. Even though law enforcement had already developed probable cause to apply for a search warrant, they decided to conduct a “knock and talk” at his residence. When O’Hare refused to grant them access to his home, law enforcement decided to let themselves in and to begin a search. At the hearing, the State failed to prove that law enforcement was in the process of obtaining a warrant. As such, the Motion to Suppress should not have been denied based on the inevitable discovery doctrine.
However, the State also argued that the evidence would have been obtained through an independent source. The independent source rule “applies when evidence is discovered as a result of unlawful police activity but is also discovered independently through a lawful investigation that occurs either before or after the illegal activity, so long as the independent investigation itself is ‘untainted by the initial activity. State v. Ojeda, 147 So. 3d 53, 65 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014). The appellate court ruled that O’Hare’s case should be remanded to the trial court for consideration of the applicability of the independent source doctrine rather than dismissing the charges.
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If you’ve been arrested or charged subsequent to a search of your home or business in Hillsborough County or the surrounding areas, give us a call today at 813.397.3965. As you can see, search and seizure issues can be complicated. You need a board certified criminal trial law attorney to make sure this issue is analyzed properly. Call for your free consultation now!