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Florida Police Obtain Warrant to Search ‘All Persons’ in Apartment Complex
Officers tried to arrest dealers, but suspects often fled and managed to disappear into the neighborhood.
The pressure to make arrests peaked in July 2009, when a man's mutilated body was found in one of the apartment units.
So that December, the agency tried something it had never done before. It sought permission from a judge to search anyone and everyone who parked or set foot in the apartment complex parking lot.
More than a dozen officers and the city's SWAT team flooded the area. They had permission to detain and pat down anyone they saw in the area.
During the two-hour raid, a dozen people were searched and, even though officers justified the wide search by telling a judge no "innocent persons" congregated in the abandoned lot, only four people were charged with drug crimes. An 80-year-old man was among those detained, then released, during the operation.
A year later, the decision by Sarasota police to use an "all persons" warrant is being questioned by legal experts who say it gave officers unjustified power to search citizens with no evidence they were committing a crime.
In court this week, Judge Rochelle Curley upheld the legality of the search warrant. But an attorney for one of the men arrested outside the Mediterranean Apartments has vowed to push the case to the district court of appeal.
Those involved say a decision by the higher court could lead to a new precedent for police searches in Florida, essentially banning such broad searches or signaling approval for more widespread use.
"It will be interesting to see what happens if the case makes it to an appellate court," said Robert Batey, a Stetson University law professor. "It could have an impact on agencies across the state."
A ruling by the New York State Supreme Court last April banned similar searches, as justices said police cannot search everyone they find in a certain area or home unless officers have evidence they have committed a crime.
"It's an overreaching warrant," said Paul Hudson, a defense attorney for one of the men searched outside the Mediterranean Apartments. "Just being in the area where the warrant is served is not enough evidence that someone is involved in a crime."
Normally, authorities build drug cases around a specific person or home. They use undercover officers or confidential informants to buy narcotics, or they watch a house long enough to find evidence. Officers take that evidence to a judge, who decides if police have justification for a raid.
Most warrants limit what can be searched -- a home, a car or a person -- and even what type of evidence can be sought. The Mediterranean Apartments gave police the right to detain and investigate anyone in the area, even those who parked their car in the lot or were just walking through.
'These guys are smart'
Experts say the limitations on search warrants are rigorous, and that police are required to show evidence that someone is involved in criminal activity before searching them.
more at http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20110214/ARTICLE/102141035?p=2&tc=pg
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