One of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights is that law enforcement may not enter one’s home or invade one’s personal papers and belongings without a search warrant. But what really does that mean in Florida? What follows is what you need to know about the search warrant requirement in Florida.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1791 and reads as follows:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Although the text defines the right and broadly outlines the requirement of the government to obtain a warrant, the Fourth Amendment does not specify exactly what constitutes “probable cause” and what, beyond a very general outline, makes a valid search warrant.
In the intervening years, the Supreme Court has fleshed out the requirements for probable cause and for search warrants. In general, probable cause is a reasonable amount of suspicion that is backed up by circumstances that are strong enough to cause a prudent and cautious person to believe that the facts in question are most likely true.
Another definition, which was set down by the Supreme Court in Brinegar v. United States, defines probable cause as
“where the facts and circumstances within the officers’ knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed.”
In broad strokes, a warrant is a writ issued by a competent officer that permits an act that would otherwise be illegal and in violation of one’s rights and protects the person who is executing the warrant from civil and criminal liability.
Prior to the American Revolution, English authorities would often act under a “general warrant.” Such warrants were frequently quite vague and conveyed broad powers to those holding them. Having learned from that experience, the United States government enacted more specific requirements in the Bill of Rights, namely that the warrant must
Be backed by probable cause,
be supported by oath,
specifically describe the place to be searched, and
specifically describe the things to be seized.
In order to give the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement teeth, courts have developed what is known as the “exclusionary rule.” The exclusionary rule was adopted by the Supreme Court in Weeks v. United States in 1914 and fleshed out the rule in Nardone v. United States, where Justice Felix Frankfurter coined the term “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
In essence, the exclusionary rule states that any evidence derived from a warrantless search (provided no exception to the warrant requirement existed) is generally not admissible in a court of law. Not only that, any evidence developed by using illegally-obtained evidence is also not admissible as fruit of the poisonous tree.
The exclusionary rule was incorporated to the states by Mapp v. Ohio in 1961.