Tucker v. Florida – Stale Information in a Search Warrant

In a criminal investigation, if law enforcement waits too long following the issuance of a search warrant to make an actual search or if they wait to long to act on certain information pertaining to a criminal act, the warrant or information could be deemed “stale.”
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That means even if the warrant was valid or the information was sufficient to establish probable cause, a defendant may challenge this evidence if the delay was unreasonable, and therefore no longer supported by probable cause.

Most courts agree that warrants are stale 10 days after they are issued, but there are often subjective factors the court may consider.

For example, information regarding a dead body buried in a backyard could be valid long after that information is received for several reasons. First, corpses typically leave traces long after they are buried. Second, most people won’t try to dig up and remove a body once it’s already buried.

However, if we’re talking about something like narcotics, the timeline is going to be much shorter. That’s because the two reasons people possess narcotics is to use them or to sell them, and that process happens rather quickly, often leaving no long-term traces. So information regarding a drug crime is going to be considered “stale” much sooner than most homicides.

If a defendant can successfully challenge the information upon which a warrant or investigation was founded as “stale,” whatever evidence was gained as a result could be suppressed. But it takes an experienced criminal defense attorney.

The recent case of Tucker v. Florida, before Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal, was a case that dealt with the issue of alleged “staleness” of information.

According to court records, the case began when an intruder allegedly entered a home and then fled in a car that was parked across the street after encountering the homeowner.

Accuser described the “getaway car” as a gold, older model vehicle. A license plate number was obtained, and local authorities were issued a “be on the lookout” warning on the day of the incident.

Forty days later, a detective assigned to the case spotted a vehicle that matched the description. The license plate number was similar to the one witness had given (off by one letter), and while the make/model was different than had been described, it was gold in color. Detective initiated a traffic stop.

Ultimately, defendant was charged with burglary and driving with a suspended license.

Defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing the detective in the case was relying on information that was “stale” in initiating that traffic stop, and without it, there was no reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle.

Trial court denied his motion, citing the color/age of the car, as well as the similarity of the license plate to the one described by victim.

Defendant then pleaded no contest to trespassing and driving with a suspended license and received nine months of probation. He then appealed.

Appeals court affirmed that detective had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle on the basis of the plate number along with the distinctive color and older age of the vehicle. The description provided by accuser was 40 days old, but that did not make it stale, justices ruled.

They noted the mere lapse of a substantial amount of time is not necessarily controlling when determining whether staleness is an issue. Courts have ruled it is to be determined in light of the particular facts of the case, the nature of the crime and the property sought.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
Tucker v. Florida, Aug. 19, 2015, Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Florida DUI Motion to Suppress Blood Test Results Reversed, Aug. 25, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Blog