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S.P. v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District
Jan 7, 2022
No. 2D21-631 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Jan. 7, 2022)




S.P., Appellant, v. STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Pamela Izakowitz, Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant. Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and James A. Hellickson, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Sarasota County; Rochelle Curley, Judge.

Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Pamela Izakowitz, Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.

Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and James A. Hellickson, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

LUCAS, Judge.

S.P. appeals her judgment and sentence, arguing that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress evidence of cocaine that was found in her wallet while she was being placed into protective custody pursuant to the Baker Act. Because the sheriff deputy's warrantless search of her wallet violated her Fourth Amendment rights, we reverse.

We refer to appellant by initials pursuant to Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420(d)(1)(B)(viii).

§§ 394.451-.47892, Fla. Stat. (2020).


The following facts were adduced at the suppression hearing. In the waning hours of August 25, 2020, Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Deputy Tate Anderson received a call of a family disturbance at a house. When he arrived, Deputy Anderson met with S.P. and her boyfriend. They had been in an argument, and S.P. wanted the deputy to remove her boyfriend from the house. Deputy Tate testified S.P. appeared "very intoxicated" at the time, but in his estimation, her condition did not warrant taking her into protective custody under the Marchman Act. Because he had no lawful authority to remove her boyfriend and because there was no indication of any criminal activity, Deputy Anderson left the couple and drove away.

The individual's name was never stated in the record; hence, we can only refer to him as her "boyfriend" in this opinion.

§§ 397.301-.998, Fla. Stat. (2020). The criteria for placing a person in protective custody under the Marchman Act are nearly identical to those under the more commonly known Baker Act. Compare § 397.675 with § 394.463(1); cf. T.L. v. F.M., 289 So.3d 494, 500 (Fla. 2d DCA 2019) (Lucas, J., concurring) (observing that the Baker Act "shares many similarities" with the Marchman Act).

A few hours later, at around 3:00 a.m. on August 26, S.P.'s boyfriend left to look for Deputy Anderson, whom he found parked nearby. According to Deputy Anderson, the boyfriend stated that S.P. "was very intoxicated, that she was - that she walked away from him, and said that she had a gun, and that she was threatening to shoot herself."

Deputy Anderson, along with other deputies on patrol, went in search of S.P. and eventually found her at a Disabled American Veterans post in Nokomis. The record of what transpired next is not entirely clear, so we will reproduce Deputy Anderson's testimony as it was given before the trial court:

Q. And what was her demeanor like when you made contact with her?
A. Uhm, she - she seemed visibly upset at the time, but I think that - when we walked up she seemed upset, but she wasn't - she wasn't crying or anything right then, I don't believe. But we made contact, she was real upset. And at that time myself, and Sergeant Lewis was there with me, and another deputy was there and, you know, we kind of just talked to her just to check her welfare.
Q. Did she make any statements to you?
A. She - when we first walked up she made a couple of statements, just about our tactics how we walked up, how it was unsafe how we walked up. How if she was wanting to harm us, she could have, but she - she kind of just made a little comment. We kind of just talked to her. My Sergeant Lewis actually pulled her aside and had kind of a more private conversation with her about her, just checking her welfare to determine her - determine if she met our criteria for a Baker Act.
Q. Okay. And did you determine if she did meet your criteria for a Baker Act at that time?
A. Yeah. My sergeant notified me that she did meet the criteria for a Baker Act at that time.

We have no way of knowing what passed between Sergeant Lewis and S.P. because Sergeant Lewis never testified at the suppression hearing. Deputy Anderson, the State's only witness, testified that at his sergeant's direction he placed S.P. into custody, which entailed handcuffing her, searching her person, and placing her into the back of his patrol car. He found a gun in her purse. He also found a wallet in her back pocket, which was attached to a chain. After S.P. was handcuffed and in the back of his patrol car, Deputy Anderson opened her wallet. Along with personal identification, he found a small baggie containing a substance he suspected was cocaine. He field tested the substance, and it was indeed cocaine.

When asked why he conducted the search in the manner he had, Deputy Anderson relayed that it was his department's policy to always search any individual who is riding in the back of their patrol cars. The reason for searching her wallet, he said, was for his safety and hers as well because she could have had a weapon concealed within it. Moreover, he remarked:

I don't know what their training is at those receiving facilities or if they are equipped to search someone, if they do search someone. . . . If she has - whether it be dangerous narcotics or another weapon in her wallet, I'm handing them over, I'm going to assure that I've checked her and that she's safe.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit judge ruled from the bench. As to the appropriateness of S.P.'s being taken into custody, the court stated, "I can't go back and determine whether or not the Baker Act was reasonable or lawful or appropriate at that time. I think that was a determination for law enforcement." The court then concluded that under the authority of Collins v. State, 125 So.3d 1046 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013), the deputy's search of S.P.'s wallet was lawful and appropriate. S.P. entered a plea agreement, reserving the right to appeal the circuit court's dispositive ruling on her motion to suppress, and was adjudicated guilty and sentenced to probation. She now asks us to review that ruling.


We employ a mixed standard of review for suppression orders: factual findings are reviewed for competent substantial evidence, while legal determinations are reviewed de novo. See State v. Vazquez, 295 So.3d 373, 378 (Fla. 2d DCA 2020) (citing Pagan v. State, 830 So.2d 792, 806 (Fla. 2002)). Moreover, a trial court's application of the law to historical facts is also de novo. Cuervo v. State, 967 So.2d 155, 160 (Fla. 2007) (citing Connor v. State, 803 So.2d 598, 608 (Fla. 2001)). Suppression orders enjoy a presumption of correctness. See Cruz v. State, 320 So.3d 695, 712 (Fla. 2021) ("A trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress comes to the appellate court clothed with a presumption of correctness and the court must interpret the evidence and reasonable inferences and deductions derived therefrom in a manner most favorable to sustaining the trial court's ruling." (quoting Jackson v. State, 18 So.3d 1016, 1027 (Fla. 2009))). In the case at bar, the circuit court did not issue factual findings but premised its ruling on two legal issues, which we turn to now.


It appears the circuit court determined (at least implicitly) that the sheriff's deputies appropriately took S.P. into protective custody because the court felt it could not review a law enforcement officer's decision to do so under the Baker Act. We must correct that misconception at the outset. Although law enforcement officers are vested with a certain level of discretion when determining whether an individual meets the criteria under the Baker Act, a circuit court most assuredly can review the propriety of an officer's decision to place an individual into protective custody pursuant to that act. Cf. Diaz v. State, 181 So.2d 351, 353 (Fla. 2d DCA 1965) ("[I]t was entirely within the trial court's province in this particular instance to resolve the disputed question as to whether a legal arrest had been made."); State v. E.A., 35 So.3d 1006, 1006-07 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010) (reversing and remanding order granting motion to suppress "for the trial judge to enter adequate findings of fact determining the credibility of testimony on the issue of whether or not a seizure within the Fourth Amendment had occurred to implicate a finding on probable cause"). Since the court denied S.P.'s suppression motion, it effectively rejected her claim that her noncriminal seizure was unlawful, and so we will address that issue first.


Was there "a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment" S.P. would "cause serious bodily harm" to "herself or others in the near future, as evidenced by [her] recent behavior"? See § 394.463(1)(b)2, Fla. Stat. (2020). On this record, the application of that law to these facts-and whether there was probable cause to take S.P. into custody-would present a close call. As the Eleventh Circuit observed in Watkins v. Bigwood, 797 Fed.Appx. 438, 442 (11th Cir. 2019), in reversing the dismissal of a plaintiff's section 1983 false arrest claim:

[U]nder the Baker Act, probable cause must have existed-evidenced by Plaintiff's recent behavior-to believe that a "substantial likelihood" existed that Plaintiff would cause "serious bodily harm" to himself or to others in the near future. This standard is a high one: for example, a reasonable belief about "some likelihood," "might cause" "some kind of bodily harm," "at some point in the future" is not good enough for probable cause to deprive a person of their freedom.

Recently, our court held in J.W. v. State, 313 So.3d 909, 911-12 (Fla. 2d DCA 2021), that a trial court should not have accepted a defendant's nolo contendere pleas to resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer because the only factual basis for the pleas-a police report affidavit-did not support the State's theory that the victim police officer was engaged in the official legal duty of arresting the defendant for an involuntary Baker Act evaluation. The facts reported in the affidavit did not document any mental impairment on the part of the defendant who, at the time of his arrest, was sitting on a couch in his home being evaluated by EMS personnel for "medical issues." Id. at 912. And the affidavit's recitation from the defendant's wife-who stated that the defendant had been drinking alcohol and taking more of his anxiety medication than he should have-did not provide an "articulable reason for J.W. to have been subjected to an involuntary physical seizure under the Baker Act." Id. (citing Watkins, 797 Fed.Appx. at 442).

The record in the case at bar is not quite as scant, but nor is it particularly compelling. When the deputies came upon S.P., she was not crying, she was uninjured, and she was able to communicate appropriately. Apparently, her condition did not prompt any of the responding deputies to contact EMS. And the determination that S.P. should be taken into custody was made by a law enforcement officer who never testified. Thus, we simply do not know what may have transpired in the "private conversation" Sergeant Lewis had with S.P., which precipitated his direction to Deputy Anderson to take her into custody. Accord J.W., 313 So.3d at 912 ("Although it is possible that the officer witnessed other behavior on the part of J.W. that caused concern for his well-being, the affidavit was the sole factual basis for the pleas . . . ."). Although Deputy Anderson relayed hearsay from S.P.'s boyfriend, which, he opined, could be combined with S.P.'s demeanor and possession of a firearm to independently satisfy the criteria for taking her into protective custody, the fact remains that it was Sergeant Lewis who made the determination and that it was under Sergeant Lewis' direction that Deputy Anderson took S.P. into custody for a Baker Act assessment.

But we need not decide this point today because S.P.'s second point on appeal is well taken and offers a more discrete resolution of her case. Assuming without deciding that there was justification to take S.P. into custody, the narrower issue before us-whether the sheriff's deputy could open her wallet and search its contents without a warrant-requires reversal. We explain why next.


The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." Amend. IV, U.S. Const. "This inestimable right of personal security belongs as much to the citizen on the streets of our cities as to the homeowner closeted in his study to dispose of his secret affairs." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1968). Its application most frequently arises in the context of criminal investigations; but it also applies when, as here, the State's law enforcement officers are engaged in a noncriminal function. See City of Ontario, Cal. v. Quon, 560 U.S. 746, 755-56 (2010) (" 'The [Fourth] Amendment guarantees the privacy, dignity, and security of persons against certain arbitrary and invasive acts by officers of the Government,' without regard to whether the government actor is investigating crime or performing another function." (quoting Skinner v. Ry. Lab. Execs.' Ass'n, 489 U.S. 602, 613-14 (1989))); Shepherd v. State, 343 So.2d 1349, 1351 (Fla. 1st DCA 1977) ("An individual's personal effects are as fully protected from unreasonable searches when the individual is not suspected of criminal behavior as when the individual is suspected of criminal behavior.").

Ordinarily, "searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment-subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967) (footnote omitted). While acknowledging that a person seized under the Baker Act "may not be formally arrested, such that the search can be considered incident to arrest," the State maintains that the incursion against S.P.'s Fourth Amendment rights was nevertheless justified because it was performed pursuant to a standard policy for transporting individuals to a receiving facility. Standing on its own, we find that justification unpersuasive. Local law enforcement agency policies may be indicative of whether a search occasioned by a noncriminal seizure is reasonable, but they do not dictate ipso facto the parameters of the Fourth Amendment.

Rather, the scope of S.P.'s Fourth Amendment rights must be considered in the context of the sheriff's office's statutory charge of assessing whether an individual poses a risk of harm under a state mental health statute. That is a landscape that remains somewhat unsettled. As Justice Alito recently remarked,

Section 394.459(1) makes clear, "[a] person who is receiving treatment for mental illness shall not be deprived of any constitutional rights." Moreover, we would observe that other than firearms and ammunition, there is no explicit authorization under the Baker Act for law enforcement officers to search individuals taken into custody or to seize their personal property. Accord § 394.463(2)(d).

While there is no overarching "community caretaking" doctrine, it does not follow that all searches and seizures conducted for non-law-enforcement purposes must be analyzed under precisely the same Fourth Amendment rules developed in criminal cases. Those rules may or may not be appropriate for use in various non-criminal-law-enforcement contexts. . . .
This case falls within one important category of cases that could be viewed as involving community caretaking: conducting a search or seizure for the purpose of preventing a person from committing suicide. Assuming that petitioner did not voluntarily consent to go with the officers for a psychological assessment, he was seized and thus subjected to a serious deprivation of liberty. But was this warrantless seizure "reasonable"? We have addressed the standards required by due process for involuntary commitment to a mental treatment facility, but we have not addressed Fourth Amendment restrictions on seizures like the one that we must assume occurred here, i.e., a short-term seizure conducted for the purpose of ascertaining whether a person presents an imminent risk of suicide.
Caniglia v. Strom, 141 S.Ct. 1596, 1600-01 (2021) (Alito, J, concurring) (footnote omitted) (citations omitted).


Our court broached this issue in White v. State, 170 So.3d 77 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015). In that case, the defendant, Mr. White, was found lying unresponsive in the road with his backpack next to him. Id. at 78. When a Collier County sheriff's deputy attended to him, Mr. White smelled of alcohol, acted very confused, and had difficulty answering the deputy's questions. Unable to locate a sober adult who could take care of him, the deputy placed Mr. White into protective custody under the Marchman Act. At the time, individuals processed under the Marchman Act in Collier County were taken to the county jail. Since the jail's standard protocol was to conduct an inventory search of every person entering the jail, the deputy searched Mr. White's backpack and discovered it contained ammunition. Mr. White was a convicted felon. Id.

Following the denial of his suppression motion, Mr. White appealed his judgment and sentence for possession of ammunition by a convicted felon. Id. at 77. The White court rejected the notion that the backpack could be searched as an incident to Mr. White's arrest. Id. at 78 ("We do, however, agree with Mr. White that detention under the Marchman Act is not a criminal arrest and that the search of his backpack therefore cannot be authorized as a search incident to arrest."); see also L.C. v. State, 23 So.3d 1215, 1218-19 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009) (explaining that transporting a truant student to school could not be deemed a custodial arrest justifying an officer's incident search of the student's pocket, reasoning that "[o]rdinarily a warrantless search incident to arrest is permissible because of the need to disarm a suspect to take him into custody and to preserve evidence for trial. However, when there has not been a custodial arrest, the danger to the officer is considered to be significantly lessened due, in part, to the brief encounter between the officer and suspect" (citations omitted)). We nevertheless affirmed the circuit court's ruling because the ammunition would have inevitably been discovered when Mr. White was taken to the jail and searched. In so holding, however, we noted that

Unlike in White, the State has not argued inevitable discovery as a separate basis for affirmance in the case at bar, and there is nothing in the record to indicate the baggie would have inevitably been found. Indeed, at the suppression hearing, the assistant state attorney implied quite the opposite: "based on the White case . . . the fact that [S.P.]'s wallet wasn't going to be searched at the hospital made it even more imperative that Deputy Anderson search the wallet before giving it, and her, over to the hospital." Regardless of whether we might surmise that the receiving facility would have searched the contents of S.P.'s wallet and, if it had, would have discovered the baggie and then alerted a law enforcement officer of the possible contraband, it is not a viable ground to affirm on this record.

some counties in Florida have separate facilities to process and care for persons detained under protective custody. Thus, we leave open the issue of whether contraband discovered in a warrantless search of a backpack or other bag should be suppressed when the person under protective custody is not being transported to a jail and when the officer has no reason to believe that the item could not be safely transported in the trunk of the officer's vehicle.
White, 170 So.3d at 79. We further observed:
From a Fourth Amendment perspective, as a matter of officer safety, it often may be reasonable for an officer to search an individual who is mentally ill or severely intoxicated prior to transporting the individual in the officer's vehicle to a safe haven. The same may sometimes be true for packs, purses, suitcases, and other large objects that can be separated from the detainee but could still contain dangerous material.
Id. at 80 (citation omitted).

The issue that was left open in White is before us today. In addressing it, we highlight what animated the White court's decision, what the Supreme Court has described as "the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment": reasonableness. See Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006). Was it reasonable for Deputy Anderson to open S.P.'s wallet and search its contents without a warrant after she was already handcuffed and in custody in the back seat of his patrol car to be taken to a mental health facility? On the facts of this case, we hold it was not.

Again, absent a recognized exception, a law enforcement officer must ordinarily obtain a warrant before searching the personal effects of a person. See Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373, 382 (2014) ("In the absence of a warrant, a search is reasonable only if it falls within a specific exception to the warrant requirement."); Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6 (2013) ("The Fourth Amendment 'indicates with some precision the places and things encompassed by its protections': persons, houses, papers, and effects." (quoting Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 176 (1984))). The case law has recognized that officers engaged in a so-called "community caretaking" role (which the case at bar would seem to invoke) may conduct a limited search of persons and property when it is necessary to ensure safety. See State v. Brumelow, 289 So.3d 955, 956 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019) (citing 14A Fla. Jur 2d Criminal Law-Procedure § 771 (2019); State v. Johnson, 208 So.3d 843, 845 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017)); L.C., 23 So.3d at 1219. The necessity of ensuring safety in these situations does not create an inchoate warrant to bypass every protection of the Fourth Amendment. Accord Caniglia, 141 S.Ct. at 1600 ("But, this recognition that police officers perform many civic tasks in modern society was just that-a recognition that these tasks exist, and not an open-ended license to perform them anywhere."). The safety search must be objectively reasonable under the facts of the case. And reasonableness, in these contexts, is typically measured in terms of the search's intrusiveness and the circumstances' necessity.

Thus, in A.B.S. v. State, 51 So.3d 1181, 1182 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010), we reversed a juvenile's adjudication for possession of a controlled substance because the officer who had taken the juvenile into custody had no need to unlock and unscrew the container found in the juvenile's pocket. We held:

Circumstances that allow a juvenile to be taken into custody under section 984.13 are not crimes; therefore,
the search incident to arrest exception to the warrant requirement does not apply.
Further, in this case the officer had no indication that A.B.S. was in possession of either a weapon or contraband when he searched A.B.S. He admitted that he searched A.B.S. solely because it was his policy to search people before transporting them in his cruiser. . . . Because the search was conducted without a legal basis, the trial court erred in denying the motion to suppress.
Id. (citation omitted).

Similarly, in Fields v. State, 105 So.3d 1280, 1284 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013), we rejected the claim that a police officer could command a defendant to hand over a pill bottle in his pocket when it was clear the medical emergency that precipitated the officer's interaction with the defendant was over. "[S]ince the reason for the feared medical emergency had been resolved," we explained, "[Officer] Odom was not entitled to demand that Fields produce the pill bottle. Hence, Odom's demand constituted an unreasonable and unconstitutional search . . . ." Id. (citing Rolling v. State, 695 So.2d 278, 293 (Fla. 1997); Reed v. State, 944 So.2d 1054, 1059 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006)).

So, too, here, Deputy Anderson's pat-down search of S.P. was permissible in order to safely transport her to the receiving facility. See L.C., 23 So.3d at 1219. And locating (and then sequestering) the gun in her possession was also warranted given the information the deputies had. But there was no need to search through S.P.'s wallet when the one weapon she was reported to have had already been seized, when she was already in handcuffs in the back of a sheriff's patrol car, and when there was no objective basis to be further concerned for anyone's safety. There was no articulable suspicion of criminal activity when Deputy Anderson went the proverbial "extra step" of looking through S.P.'s wallet. And, as we alluded to in White, there was no indication that her wallet could not have been seized and kept in the trunk of the patrol car (or any other place that was out of her reach) as she was being transported to a receiving facility. The deputy went a step too far under the Fourth Amendment when he opened the wallet and searched its contents.


We will conclude by explaining why the case the circuit court relied upon when it denied S.P.'s suppression motion, Collins, 125 So.3d 1046, is unpersuasive here. In Collins, a defendant had, over the course of three days, repeatedly made "outlandish and false" statements about his eight-month-old daughter's alleged kidnapping and murder, which prompted police officers to take him into custody under the Baker Act. Id. at 1047. Pursuant to a department policy, the officers searched his pockets and found crack pipes and cocaine. Id. The circuit court denied his motion to suppress, and the Fourth District affirmed. Id. at 1048-49. "Under the facts and circumstances of this case, where the officers were concerned for appellant's safety and the safety of others, and acted pursuant to a reasonable local police policy, the trial court was entitled to conclude that the officers' actions were reasonable . . . ." Id. at 1049.

First, it appears Collins attempted to craft something of a categorical distinction between searches under the truancy statute and the Baker Act. If so, we must respectfully disagree with our sister court. According to Collins, the Third District's holding in L.C. as well as our holding in A.B.S. were inapt under the Baker Act because those cases "concern Florida's truancy statute, Chapter 984.13, Florida Statutes (2007), and do not involve a search conducted during a detention pursuant to the Florida Mental Health Act, Chapter 394.463, Florida Statutes (2010)." Id. at 1048.

But that is a distinction without a difference in this inquiry. The Baker Act does not (and could not) categorically preclude the protections of the Fourth Amendment. Cf. Dobbins v. City of Los Angeles, 195 U.S. 223, 237 (1904) ("But, as the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land, anything in the Constitution or statutes of the states to the contrary notwithstanding, a statute of a state, even when avowedly enacted in the exercise of its police powers, must yield to that law."); Yorty v. Stone, 259 So.2d 146, 150 (Fla. 1972) (Ervin, J., dissenting) ("Constitutional guaranties are imperatives that do not yield with the passing vagaries of statutes."). The Florida Supreme Court said as much in Lukehart v. State, 70 So.3d 503, 520 (Fla. 2011), where it concluded that "it appears that the postconviction court correctly found that the exclusionary rule is not a remedy for a violation of section 394.453 unless a constitutional violation has also occurred." (Emphasis added.) Moreover, it seems to us that the operative effects of a law enforcement officer's actions in both kinds of cases-as to the seizure of an individual and the constitutional rights being implicated when that individual is searched-are effectively indistinguishable, whether the precipitating event is truancy or a mental health crisis. We think the conclusions reached in L.C. and A.B.S., as well as in Fields, offer a more suitable framework to examine the Fourth Amendment's operation in cases such as these.

Second, turning to the result Collins reached, we read that decision to be, as its panel stated, a holding confined to "the facts and circumstances of the case." 125 So.3d at 1049. The "reasonable local police policy" at issue in Collins was but one of the facts and circumstances the court recounted when it held that the officers acted reasonably and in good faith. Id. Collins did not purport to lay down a bright-line rule that a law enforcement officer may conduct a blanket search of all personal effects during a Baker Act detention so long as it is in accordance with a "policy." Accord A.B.S., 51 So.3d at 1282; L.C., 23 So.3d at 1220 ("In the absence of reasonable suspicion, Officer Quintas was not justified in proceeding to a direct search of L.C. merely because he felt uneasy about his safety, nor could he do so based upon blanket department policy."); cf. Byrd v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 1518, 1526 (2018) ("Few protections are as essential to individual liberty as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. . . . Ever mindful of the Fourth Amendment and its history, the Court has viewed with disfavor practices that permit 'police officers unbridled discretion to rummage at will among a person's private effects.'" (quoting Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 345 (2009))); R.A.S. v. State, 141 So.3d 687, 689 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014) ("It is also the case that an officer may conduct a pat-down for weapons before placing a truant in his vehicle, but he is not authorized to conduct a full search."). Nor do we presume to lay down a bright-line rule in this area of jurisprudence today. Cf. Cardwell v. State, 482 So.2d 512, 514 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986) ("Although it is desirable to give law enforcement authorities bright line rules within which to operate, the reasonableness standard required by the Fourth Amendment does not lend itself to absolute definition.").

We would only observe that wherever the line is to be drawn between law enforcement officers' work ensuring safety in their "community caretaking" function and the Fourth Amendment, it should lie within the least intrusive and least invasive points of action that will ensure that safety. Cf. People v. Chaves, 855 P.2d 852, 855 (Colo. 1993) (en banc) ("When such a search is conducted pursuant to protective custody, however, the scope of the officer's inventory search is limited by the privacy interest of the detainee, and any closed containers must be set aside and a warrant obtained before they may be opened.").

Instead, we simply hold that the deputy's search of S.P.'s wallet was unreasonable under the facts and circumstances of this case. Once S.P. was handcuffed and placed in the back of the patrol car, it was no longer necessary to search her pocket-sized wallet. If, as Deputy Anderson claimed, there was a continuing concern about safety with respect to this wallet, the wallet could have been seized-but not searched-and delivered to the receiving facility.


Law enforcement officers have indeed become the "jack-of-all-emergencies," many of which do not entail criminal law whatsoever. Wayne R. LaFave, Search & Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment § 5.4(c) (6th ed.). At times, it can pose a difficult challenge to navigate the demands of a noncriminal emergency without circumscribing a person's civil rights to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion. Even when responding to mental health crises, however, police officers and sheriff's deputies are still armed officers of the State. As such, the Fourth Amendment requires them to exercise their search and seizure powers in a reasonable manner.

On the facts of this case, searching the wallet of a person who was already handcuffed and in custody for a mental health assessment was unnecessary to ensure anyone's safety. It was, therefore, an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, we reverse S.P.'s judgment and sentence with directions to discharge her from probation.

Reversed and remanded for discharge.

MORRIS, C.J., and SLEET, J., Concur.

Summaries of

S.P. v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District
Jan 7, 2022
No. 2D21-631 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Jan. 7, 2022)
Case details for

S.P. v. State

Case Details

Full title:S.P., Appellant, v. STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

Court:Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

Date published: Jan 7, 2022


No. 2D21-631 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Jan. 7, 2022)