Seizure of Contraband

Seizure of Contraband is when a police officer engages in activity tantamount to a detention and search of an individual. Many although unaware at the time, have discovered through their criminal defense attorney, that the said “detention and search” was improper.

Broward County attorneys at William Moore Criminal Defense deliver years of knowledge and experience in Fort Lauderdale Seizure of Contraband. Our defense attorneys provide legal representation that is steadfast fueled by determination. If you or a loved one has just been arrested for a crime involving Seizure of Contraband, contact the criminal defense attorneys at The William Moore Law Firm. We are available for immediate legal answers and representation in Broward County.

Criminal lawyers will tell you that if law enforcement has reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or involvement of a completed crime which is supported by articulable facts, they may briefly detain a person for investigative reasons. This detainment must be no longer than necessary to conduct a limited investigation to verify their suspicion. If the officer believes the detained person may be armed and dangerous, they may conduct a pat-down or frisk for weapons. If during a pat-down for weapons, law enforcement feels an item(s) immediately recognizable as contraband, the item may be seized. Criminal attorneys caution, however, it must readily apparent to law enforcement what the item is and the officer is not permitted to manipulate the item in order to determine its contents.

Florida Criminal Case Law

In William Steadman v. State of Florida, the Fifth District Court of Appeal examined the issue of contraband being seized by law enforcement during a pat-down. Defendant Steadman was a passenger in a vehicle that was involved in a hit-and-run accident. Law enforcement had observed the accident and was able to pursue and stop the vehicle that had left the scene. While conducting the stop, law enforcement was able to view an occupant, Defendant Steadman, concealing items within the car. As such, one of the officers ordered Defendant out of the vehicle and handcuffed him. The officer conducted a pat-down of Defendant and discovered over twenty grams of cannabis. The officer described the pat-down by observing that he felt the item was a plastic bag that contained a specific type of large item, but could not readily identify what it was. The officer later testified that he thought it was something that was illegal contraband, but that the identification of the contraband was not readily apparent through a plain feel.

Defendant, by and through his criminal attorney, filed a motion to suppress the cannabis based upon the fact that law enforcement exceeded the bounds of a traditional pat-down search. The trial court denied Defendant’s motion to suppress and admitted the evidence found during the pat-down.

The appellate court, however, reversed and found that the evidence should have been suppressed. The United State Supreme Court held in the 1993 case of Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, that: “When a police officer lawfully pats down a suspect’s outer clothing and feels an object whose contour or mass makes its identity immediately apparent, there has been no invasion of the suspect’s privacy beyond that authorized by the officer’s search for weapons; if the object is contraband, its warrantless seizure would be justified by the same practical considerations that inhere in the plain-view context.”

The court ruled that the officer had been justified in conducting the pat-down due to the nature of the accident and that he had observed the Defendant attempting to conceal items within the vehicle. Criminal lawyers argued that because the officer did not immediately recognize the items in Defendant’s pocket as contraband and the fact that he had to extract the items from the pocket in order to determine the contents, the officer’s conduct exceeded the boundaries established by the United States Supreme Court in Dickerson. Thus, Defendant’s right to privacy was violated and the lower court’s decision was reversed.

Fort Lauderdale criminal attorneys confront search and seizure issues on a routine basis. Our constitutional rights are always enforced through suppression of evidence when it is illegally obtained.

Article contributed by attorney Denise Grass.