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Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer > Blog > Murder Manslaughter > Does Using a Flashlight Violate the Fourth Amendment?

Does Using a Flashlight Violate the Fourth Amendment?


At a basic level, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects your home from unlawful searches by the police. With some exceptions, an unlawful search occurs when you do not consent to the search or the police fail to obtain a warrant based on a finding of probable cause. One limited exception is for “knock and talk” searches, where the police knock on a person’s door and briefly speak with the owner, often in an attempt to gain consent to a search.

The police do not require probable cause–or even reasonable suspicion–to conduct a knock and talk. And anything that the officer can plainly see with the naked eye is fair game, even without a warrant. To give a hypothetical example, if a police officer walks up to your porch and knocks on your front door, anything in plain view on that porch could theoretically be seized and used as evidence against you in a criminal trial.

Fifth District Overturns First-Degree Murder Conviction

But what if your porch is wrapped in vinyl that obstructs a person’s view? Could the police use a flashlight to look through the wrapping and search your porch without consent or a warrant? According to a recent decision from the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal, the answer is a resounding “no.”

The case before the court, Rudolph v. State, involved the first-degree murder conviction of a defendant charged with killing his neighbor. The victim lived with his wife in an RV park catering for retirees. One night, the victim’s wife heard a knock on her door followed by a gunshot. She then found her husband dead near the front door with a bullet wound.

Local police arrived and started canvassing the RV park, effectively conducting a series of knock and talks. As relevant here, police approached the home of the victim’s neighbor, who is the defendant in this case. It was late at night and the officers knocked on the door of an enclosed porch, which was wrapped in black vinyl and attached to the house.

Due to the covering, the officers could not actually see inside the porch. When nobody answered the door, one of the officers decided to use their flashlight to see inside the covered porch. In doing so, the officer saw a shotgun propped against a table inside the porch.

Officers subsequently entered the home, arrested the defendant, and charged him with the murder. The defendant moved to suppress the shotgun as evidence, arguing the police search violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court rejected that argument. But on appeal, the Fifth District agreed with the defense that the shotgun was unlawfully seized.

Specifically, the Fifth District held the police’s “use of a flashlight to look inside the closed porch, after no one responded to the officers’ knocks, was an impermissible intrusion under the circumstances.” In this case, the rifle “was not plainly viewed” from the front step. So the police should have obtained a warrant before using a flashlight or taking any steps to look inside the closed porch.

Contact the Joshi Law Firm Today

When you are on trial for a crime that could send you to prison for the rest of your life, you have every right to challenge the lawfulness of the police’s own actions leading to your arrest. A qualified Orlando murder and manslaughter lawyer can help ensure the state is held accountable for its actions. Call the Joshi Law Firm, PA, at 844-GO-JOSHI today or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team.



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