When Florida Police and Defendant Disagree on Consent to Search – Thompson v. State

Criminal cases, particularly drug cases, often turn on rulings on the admissibility of evidence. Searches and confessions are both commonly challenged. The Second District recently considered the admissibility of both in the case of Thompson v. State.

Officers arrived at the defendant’s sister’s home after tracing evidence from a burglary scene to that address. The parties presented contradictory evidence regarding what happened next. The officers said the defendant’s sister invited them in, but the sister denied doing so and said that they pushed her aside. She stated that she just said “yes” when they asked if her brother was there, and she gestured to him.

The officers then asked the defendant for his consent to search his room. The defendant refused, saying there were needles with methamphetamine there. The officers got a search warrant, based partly on the defendant’s statement. They found stolen property, illegal drugs, and related items in the bedroom. The defendant was charged with burglary and theft-related charges and the manufacture of methamphetamine and related charges.

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence found in the search. He argued that the police did not have consent to come into the residence and that they had left that fact out of the warrant application. The trial court did not find his sister’s testimony credible and denied the motion.

The defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing that he jointly occupied the bedroom with someone else and that the prosecution had not proven he had dominion and control over the things found there. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury convicted the defendant of several drug offenses and acquitted him on the burglary and theft-related charges and the other drug charges.

The defendant appealed, arguing the court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Although warrantless searches are generally prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, there are exceptions. One of those exceptions is voluntary consent. Either the suspect or another party may give consent, but the police may only proceed if the circumstances would lead a reasonable person to believe the person giving consent has the authority to consent. The district court noted that there was conflicting evidence as to whether the defendant’s sister invited the officers inside, but it found that there was sufficient evidence to find that the officer reasonably perceived that she had and that she had the authority to do so.

The defendant also argued his statement was made during an interrogation and was therefore entitled to constitutional protections. If the encounter was consensual and not an interrogation, the defendant would not have been entitled to a Miranda warning. The officers testified that the defendant told them about the needles in his room when they asked him for permission to search. The officers had not asked him anything about what was in the room. He volunteered the information, when he could have instead just denied the request to search. The district court found he had not made the statement during an interrogation and the trial court did not err in denying the motion to suppress.

The defendant also argued the trial court erred when it denied his motion for judgment of acquittal. He argued that the state had not proven that he had knowledge of or the ability to exert dominion or control over the evidence found in a shared room. He also argued that the state failed to prove he possessed the chemicals with knowledge or reasonable cause to believe they would be used to manufacture drugs.

The defendant, however, had told officers he did not want them to search his room because there were needles with methamphetamine there. When they did search the room, they found chemicals that could be used to make methamphetamine, pipes, and baggies. The defendant admitted smoking methamphetamine, and his girlfriend said they used it together. The defendant’s own brother testified he got drugs from the defendant. The district court found that the evidence was inconsistent with the defendant’s claims and held that there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions.

The exclusion of improperly obtained evidence can be an important part of a defense against drug charges. If you have been charged with a drug offense, the South Florida drug crimes attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have the skill and experience to defend your rights. Call us at (800) 747-3733, or submit an online “Contact Us” form.

Related Blog Posts:

When Can Cops Detain You? Musallam v. Florida

When Can Florida Cops Search Your House? Williams v. State