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State v. Johnson

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

January 31, 2017

STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellant,
v.
CLARENCE E. JOHNSON, Appellee.

          NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

         An appeal from the Circuit Court for Leon County. Kevin J. Carroll, Judge.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Thomas H. Duffy, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellant.

          David W. Collins, Monticello, for Appellee.

          WINSOR, JUDGE.

         Facing what it accurately called "a highly unique factual scenario, " the trial court suppressed evidence officers found in Clarence Johnson's car. This is the State's appeal. Finding no Fourth Amendment violation on the particular facts we face, we reverse.

          I.

         Because "the totality of the circumstances controls in cases involving the Fourth Amendment, " State v. Baez, 894 So.2d 115, 117 (Fla. 2004), we begin with a detailed look at the facts.

         Police officers went to Johnson's house to execute an arrest warrant on charges not relevant here. Johnson was not home when they arrived, but he pulled into his driveway just as the officers were leaving. Before Johnson got out of his car, one of the officers approached and told him the news. Johnson's child was asleep in the car, and Johnson asked if the officers could arrest him beyond the child's sight. The officers accommodated that request, and Johnson got out and walked behind the car. There, Johnson was placed under arrest, handcuffed, and searched.

         The officer searching Johnson found an unbound bundle of cash-some $1, 188-in Johnson's pocket. The officer initially laid the cash on the trunk of Johnson's car but then "dumped" it through Johnson's open driver-side door onto the driver's seat, concerned the cash might otherwise blow away.

         Not long after, and while Johnson and the officers were still in the driveway, Johnson's friend showed up to take care of Johnson's child and property. An officer asked Johnson to choose between entrusting the friend with the cash and returning the cash to Johnson's pocket, where it would be inventoried at the jail. Johnson chose the former, and an officer reached into Johnson's still-open car door to retrieve the cash. As he reached inside, the officer noticed "just basically sitting there was a white powdery substance" in a baggie. The officer recognized the substance as cocaine and removed the baggie. The State charged Johnson with possession, and Johnson moved to suppress the evidence.

         II.

         Johnson has not challenged the officers' authority to arrest him or to search him pursuant to that arrest. His complaint is with the officer's intrusion into his car to retrieve the cash-an intrusion Johnson contends required a warrant or probable cause. The trial court granted the motion to suppress. It recounted the facts, concluded that the "baggie was not in plain view, " and ultimately determined that "this was a warrantless illegal search and seizure."

         On appeal, the State does not argue that the officers had authority to search Johnson's car for evidence;[1] its argument is that under the circumstances, the officer's intrusion into the car was to protect Johnson's property, meaning no warrant or probable cause was required. Accordingly, the State argues there was no Fourth Amendment violation. ...


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