Exigent Circumstances and the Fourth Amendment in Florida

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitutional guarantees the fundamental right for persons to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. For a government official to intervene in a person’s security via his or her physical person, house, papers, or other personal effects, the government needs to supply a warrant that is limited to a reasonable scope. There are limited circumstances in which the government is permitted, without a warrant, to search and seize, and this where there are exigent circumstances that dictate that public safety reigns over personal rights.

If you or a loved one had your Fourth Amendment rights violated, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advocate on your behalf. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.

What are Exigent Circumstances?

Generally, the Fourth Amendment protections are invoked in situations where the person who is at the center of the search and seizure has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Exigent circumstances require that there an emergency situation and police officers are permitted to strain the Fourth Amendment protections in hot pursuit of a criminal defendant. In the event of an exigent circumstance, the police officers are permitted to intrusively enter a person’s home without a warrant and without consent. This is because the purposefulness of a police officer would be obsolete if a criminal defendant, running from a crime scene, could run into his home and then use the Fourth Amendment as a shield to hide from consequences. Ultimately, exigent circumstance exceptions are invoked when the situation may, as a result, lead to loss of life, destruction of property or evidence, and/or the escape of a dangerous fugitive. Warrants were not put into place to protect illegal activities.

Florida and Exigent Circumstance Criteria

It is on the State, in any criminal defendant proceeding where the police forcibly enter a person’s home without a warrant or consent, to prove that the police not only had probable cause but that an exigent circumstance was present. Florida case law has stated that an exigent circumstance is when the need for a police officer to act is imperative and there is no time in which to secure a warrant.

The SCOTUS and Exigent Circumstances

The United States Supreme Court has put into place three major types of exigent circumstances by which an officer may have the right to enter a home. First, the emergency aid exception, when an officer must enter into the home to provide immediate and necessary emergency assistance to an occupant. Second, where an officer may need to prevent the destruction of evidence of a crime. Third, the hot pursuit exception, which permits police officers pursuing a fleeing suspect to follow the suspect into any type of dwelling. For there to be a hot pursuit, the State must prove that there was imminent danger or grave emergency from not following the fleeing suspect.

The “Totality of the Circumstances” Evaluation

In any criminal proceedings, it is on the State to prove the reasonableness of the actions of the police officers when they violate the Fourth Amendment, but do so under one of the exigent circumstances. The reasonableness of the police officer’s actions relate to an evaluation of the totality of the circumstances whereby the fact pattern, the thought process of the police officer, and past experience can help dictate whether or not the police acted reasonably, and therefore, any evidence uncovered as a result of the actions can be admissible. If the actions are not found to be reasonable, the evidence may be considered inadmissible because it is state policy that bad police acts should not be rewarded.

The Severity of the Crime and Florida’s Exigent Circumstance Case Law

Finally, in a recent Florida Supreme Court case, the right of the police to violate the Fourth Amendment due to exigent circumstances requires the review of one more factor: the severity of the crime that the fleeing suspect is being pursued for. In this most recent case, Florida Supreme Court found that exigent circumstances were not present, and the police were in the wrong for forcibly entering a home without a warrant or consent because based on the totality of circumstances, the fleeing suspect was suspected of committing a nonviolent misdemeanor.

Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.