The Supreme Court of Florida has resolved a conflict between the First and Third District Courts of Appeal in Florida, finding that officers cannot enter a person’s home for a non-violent misdemeanor crime where the evidence of the crime is outside of the home. Prior to this case, the Third District Court had ruled that officers could enter a person’s home if they were in “hot pursuit” of someone committing any offense that was punishable by jail. Conversely, in this case, the First District Court ruled that officers following a person into a home for a non-violent misdemeanor were violating that person’s Fourth Amendment Rights to privacy, and the Supreme Court of Florida affirmed that decision.
In this case, an officer witnessed the defendant standing outside of a home smoking what the officer believed to be a cigarette containing marijuana. Upon the officer’s approach, the defendant threw the cigarette to the ground and retreated to the home. The officers, rather than collecting the cigarette, chose to follow the defendant into the home where they effectuated an arrest. During the arrest, a firearm was found in the defendant’s waistband.
Subsequently, the officers searched outside and found a cigarette which did contain marijuana. Based on the foregoing, the defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of marijuana less than twenty (20) grams, and resisting an officer without violence. The defense filed a motion to suppress the evidence based on a violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment Rights from when the officers followed him into his home without a warrant. The trial court, following the Third District Court of Appeals, denied the motion, finding that the officers were justified in entering the home because they were in “hot pursuit” of the defendant for possession of marijuana, which is an offense punishable by jail.
The case was appealed and heard by the First District Court of Appeals which reversed the trial court’s ruling, finding that the defendant’s Fourth Amendment Rights were violated once officers entered the home without a warrant, and “hot pursuit” was not a valid exception to the need for a warrant.
The case was again appealed and heard by the Supreme Court of Florida. During its review of the case, the Court struck down the notion that a person can be followed into the home based on “hot pursuit” for any jailable offense, disapproving cases previously decided by the Third District Court of Appeals.
The Court noted that careful attention must be paid to the sanctity of one’s home, and that there was no need to enter the home for such a minor offense with no risk of imminent destruction of evidence. In fact, the Court pointed out, that the evidence in this case could have been seized with no intrusion into the home, because the cigarette was outside. The Court opined that allowing officers to enter a person’s home for any jailable offense could lead to absurd results such as officers entering homes for jaywalking and littering, which are jailable offenses in certain Florida jurisdictions.
Ultimately, the Court resolved the conflict in favor of the protection of a person’s Fourth Amendment Rights, and it approved the First District Court’s decision to reverse the defendant’s conviction.