On September 29, 2017 the First District Court of Appeal made new law concerning the type of signage posted on your property that can prevent warrantless investigation of the occupants. The case is State of Florida v. Crowley; Case No.: 1D16-3380.
In Crowley, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers received an anonymous tip someone was growing and selling marijuana from their home. An officer decided to visit the home and talk to the occupants. Upon his arrival at the home, the officer approached up the front walkway to the front door which bore a conspicuous “No Soliciting” sign. Ignoring the sign, the officer knocked on the door. Robert David Crowley opened the door and spoke with the officer. Mr. Crowley did not ask the officer to leave the premises. The officer inquired about a supposed lost friend. While speaking with Mr. Crowley the officer detected a strong odor of marijuana emanating from inside the home.
After the conversation ended, the officer obtained a search warrant and returned to search Mr. Crowley’s home. The search produced seventy-seven marijuana plants, drug paraphernalia, and a firearm. Mr. Crowley was then arrested and criminally charged.
Mr. Crowley’s lawyers later filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized from his home. They argued the officers violated Mr. Crowley’s Fourth Amendment rights by disregarding his “No Soliciting” sign and by gathering critical evidence at his front door to support their search warrant.
The trial court agreed. It ruled the sign invalidated the officer’s license to remain within the curtilage (the part immediately surrounding and associated with the home), stating “Here the posting of the No Soliciting sign was all that was required for Mr. Crowley to negate the license an ordinary citizen would have to knock on his front door without invitation.” The trial court then concluded the search warrant was invalid, and it suppressed the evidence, thereby rendering it inadmissible in court. Mr. Crowley had “won” his case.
The court of appeal, however, disagreed with the trial court’s analysis concerning the effect of the No Soliciting sign. While the trial court read the sign very broadly, the court of appeal construed its effect very narrowly. The Court first noted while the sign prohibits visitors from approaching the home to sell items and seek contributions, it “does not clearly communicate an intention to exclude non-soliciting visitors.” In that regard, the Court noted “No Soliciting” signs are located in places where non-soliciting visitors are otherwise welcomed and encouraged, such as supermarkets, malls, neighborhoods, hospitals and stadiums.
The Court then distinguished other more broadly restrictive signs such as those reading “Keep Out”, “No Visitors” and “No Trespassing”, finding a “No Soliciting” sign is more akin to “No Hunting”, “No Fishing” and “No Swimming” signs that prohibit specific activities. The Court found the officer didn’t present at Mr. Crowley’s front door for the purpose of soliciting him, for instance, to buy tickets to a police sponsored function or to contribute to the police fraternal organizations or athletic league. The Court therefore concluded the officer’s implied license to approach, knock and talk to Mr. Crowley was unaffected by the “No Soliciting” sign. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order suppressing all the incriminating evidence against Mr. Crowley, meaning Mr. Crowley’s victory at the trial level was short-lived. He will now have to return to court and face his charges anew.
If the police obtained evidence from your home in Jacksonville, Fernandina Beach, Yulee, Green Cove Springs, Middleburg or St. Augustine, you should contact a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney familiar with recent law concerning the law of unlawful search and seizures. Doing so can give you the best chance of getting your case dropped, your charges lowered, or otherwise obtaining the best result possible in your case. And, if you’d like to prevent an officer from performing a warrantless “knock and talk” at your home, put a “No Trespassing” sign on your door.