What Happens If the Police Illegally Arrest Me?
The police cannot lawfully arrest you unless they have “probable cause” to believe that you have committed some crime. Probable cause is lower than the standard for an actual conviction, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but it is more than “mere suspicion” you might have done something wrong.
Note that probable cause only applies when you are under arrest. If the police detain you to ask questions, that is not in and of itself a “detention” requiring probable cause.
Court Allows Drug Conviction to Stand Under “Inevitable Discovery” Rule
The line between a legal and illegal detention is not always so clear, however, and judges often have to draw the lines after the fact. And even in cases where the police lacked probable cause to detain someone, that may not bar prosecutors from introducing evidence obtained following such an illegal arrest.
A recent decision from the Florida First District Court of Appeals, Key v. State, illustrates how this works. In this case, a police officer initiated a traffic stop of the defendant after observing a possible moving violation. During the stop, officers suspected the defendant may have committed a drug offense. Specifically, an officer “noticed a cell phone on top of [the defendant’s] left leg” that displayed “a picture of a large quantity of methamphetamine on a scale.”
The officer asked the defendant to exit his car and submit to a pat-down search. The defendant complied. The officer then handcuffed the defendant and placed him in the back of the officer’s patrol car. A drug-sniffing dog then alerted the officers to the presence of drugs in the defendant’s car. The police then searched the car, which uncovered drugs and drug paraphernalia.
The defendant eventually entered a “no contest” plea to drug possession charges. He reserved his right to appeal with respect to the legality of the search. The Second District agreed that under the circumstances, the defendant was placed under arrest without probable cause. While putting someone in handcuffs does not necessarily mean they are under arrest–police can do so simply to “restrain” a defendant who poses a safety or flight risk–that was clearly the case here. Indeed, the appellate court noted there was no evidence the defendant had a weapon on him, as revealed by the pat-down search, or that the safety of the officers was ever at risk.
That said, the Second District said the evidence obtained from the search of the car was still admissible against the defendant. The Court said this was a situation where the “inevitable discovery” rule applied. Basically, even if the police had not illegally handcuffed the defendant, they would have inevitably conducted a lawful search of the car based on the dog’s alert. So the illegal detention had no practical effect on the outcome of the case.
Speak with a Tampa Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
Unfortunately, there are a number of “exceptions” to the Fourth Amendment, like the inevitable discovery rule, that can trip up a defendant in a criminal case. That is all the more reason to hire a qualified Tampa drug crimes attorney who will advocate for your rights in court. If you need legal representation in any criminal matter, contact the Faulkner Law Group, PLLC, today to schedule a consultation.