White v. State

Decision Date29 July 1996
Docket NumberNo. 94-2823,94-2823
Citation680 So.2d 550
Parties21 Fla. L. Weekly D1744 Tyvessel Tyvorus WHITE, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

VAN NORTWICK, Judge.

We grant appellant's motion for certification, withdraw our prior opinion in this cause, substitute the following opinion in its stead, and certify a question of great public importance to the Florida Supreme Court.

Tyvessel Tyvorus White appeals his judgment and sentence for possession of cocaine. White argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the introduction into evidence of cocaine found in White's car during a warrantless inventory search of the car following its seizure pursuant to the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, sections 932.701--932.707, Florida Statutes (1993), and in failing to exclude the testimony of a police officer relating to a prejudicial statement made by White prior to receiving "Miranda warnings." 1 Because we conclude (i) that the police had probable cause to seize White's vehicle under the Forfeiture Act and the subsequent inventory search of the seized car was a reasonable procedural measure and (ii) that White's statement was freely and voluntarily given without interrogation or its functional equivalent, we affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background

In October 1993, White was arrested at his place of employment by police officers with the Bay County Joint Narcotics Task Force and charged with the sale of a controlled substance. 2 Prior to his arrest, the arresting police officers had determined to seize White's automobile under the Forfeiture Act on the grounds that, based on police eye-witnesses and videotape, it had been used in the delivery and sale of cocaine. As contemplated by the Forfeiture Act, section 932.703, Florida Statutes (1993), no prior court order or warrant was issued authorizing the seizure. The car was seized and removed to the task force headquarters, where a routine inventory search revealed two pieces of crack cocaine in the ashtray. Based on the seizure of this crack cocaine, White was also charged with possession of a controlled substance, his conviction for which is the subject of the instant appeal.

White was also transported to the task force headquarters. Prior to the arresting officer reading White his constitutional warnings, and during the course of the officer explaining to White the charges for which he was arrested, White remarked that "He had recently got back into the business." Because of prior discussions between the arresting officer and White, the officer understood the "business" to mean the sale of cocaine.

White moved to suppress the cocaine seized during the search of his car and, at trial, objected to the introduction of his statements made prior to receiving the Miranda warnings. The trial court reserved ruling on these issues and allowed the evidence and statements to go to the jury. White was found guilty as charged. At a subsequent hearing, White's suppression motion was denied.

Forfeiture Seizure and Subsequent Search

On appeal, White argues that the trial court should have suppressed the cocaine seized from his car. He contends that the seizure of his vehicle was impermissible since it was made without warrant or probable cause and the subsequent search was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment since the forfeiture seizure was improper and the police had no probable cause to search the vehicle.

The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act authorizes law enforcement agencies to seize vehicles "of any kind" used "to facilitate the transportation, carriage, conveyance, concealment, receipt, possession, purchase, sale, barter, exchange, or giving away of any contraband article." § 932.701(2)(a)5; 932.702(3), Fla. Stat. (1993). The Forfeiture Act defines "contraband article" to include "any controlled substance as defined in chapter 893." § 932.701(2)(a)1, Fla. Stat. (1993). Chapter 893 includes cocaine and its derivatives in its list of controlled substances. § 893.03(2)(a) 4, Fla. Stat. (1993). Thus, the Forfeiture Act clearly authorizes the police to seize vehicles used to facilitate the sale of cocaine.

The Forfeiture Act sets forth the procedure to be used in seizing personal property, as follows:

Personal property may be seized at the time of the violation or subsequent to the violation, provided that the person entitled to notice is notified at the time of the seizure or by certified mail, return receipt requested, that there is a right to a(sic) adversarial preliminary hearing after the seizure to determine whether probable cause exists to believe that such property has been or is being used in violation of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act.

§ 932.703(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (1993). A post-seizure adversarial preliminary hearing may be requested within 15 days after receipt of this notice and the hearing must be set and noticed by the seizing agency and held by the court within 10 days of receipt of the hearing request or as soon as practicable thereafter. Id. At the hearing, the court must determine whether probable cause existed for the seizure. § 932.703(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (1993). Thus, the only pre-seizure procedural requirement under the Forfeiture Act is the giving of a notice of the right to a subsequent hearing. Here, White does not claim this notice requirement was violated.

White's argument that to seize his car under the Forfeiture Act the police were required to have probable cause to believe the vehicle contained contraband at the time of seizure is without merit. Under the Forfeiture Act, the seizing agency is required only to have probable cause to believe that the property sought to be seized "was used, is being used, was attempted to be used, or was intended to be used" in violation of the Forfeiture Act. § 932.703(2)(c), Fla. Stat. (1993). The fact that the police, as here, did not have probable cause to believe the vehicle contained contraband or was being used in violation of the Forfeiture Act at the moment they seized the vehicle does not render the seizure unlawful under the Act. Having probable cause to believe there was prior usage of the vehicle in violation of the Forfeiture Act is sufficient. 3 See, Knight v. State, 336 So.2d 385, 387 (Fla. 1st DCA 1976), cert. denied, 345 So.2d 424 (Fla.1977)(Forfeiture Act "clearly contemplates that proof of past violations of the act may provide the basis for forfeiture."); State v. One (1) 1977 Volkswagen, 455 So.2d 434 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984), approved, 478 So.2d 347 (Fla.1985)(police properly seized a vehicle based upon a drug transaction occurring almost two months prior to the seizure); In re Forfeiture of 1979 Toyota Corolla, 424 So.2d 922, 924 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982)("[T]ransportation by automobile of a key figure to the site of a drug transaction constitutes a sufficient nexus to justify the forfeiture of the car.").

Similarly, White's argument that the police were required to obtain a warrant or court order before seizing the vehicle is without merit. Nothing in the Forfeiture Act requires the obtaining of a warrant or court order before seizing a vehicle. See, State v. Pomerance, 434 So.2d 329, 330 (Fla. 2d DCA 1983)(The Forfeiture Act "nowhere mentions obtaining a warrant; it simply states that an offending vehicle 'shall be seized.' We know of no rationale for judicially engrafting onto the statute a requirement that a warrant be obtained."); In re Forfeiture of 1986 Ford PU, 619 So.2d 337, 338 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993)(Forfeiture Act does not require a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances prior to seizing a vehicle used in violation of the statute).

The fact that the Florida Legislature has authorized by statute the warrantless seizure of a vehicle based upon probable cause that it had been used to facilitate a drug transaction, however, does not end our inquiry. The further question raised here is whether such a warrantless seizure of a motor vehicle violates constitutional prohibitions against illegal search and seizure. 4 We hold that it does not.

Neither the Florida nor United States Supreme Court has directly addressed whether the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant prior to seizing a vehicle under the Florida Forfeiture Act or similar statute. The Florida Forfeiture Act, however, is substantively similar to the federal forfeiture statute, see, 21 U.S.C. § 881, and the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, see, 9 U.L.A. § 505. Thus, decisions of federal courts and courts of certain sister states are useful to our consideration here.

The federal circuits are split in their analysis of this issue. The majority of the circuits that have considered this question have held that a warrantless seizure of a vehicle under the federal forfeiture act does not violate the Fourth Amendment and that evidence obtained in a subsequent inventory search is admissible in a criminal prosecution. U.S. v. Decker, 19 F.3d 287 (6th Cir.1994); U.S. v. Pace, 898 F.2d 1218 (7th Cir.1990); U.S. v. Valdes, 876 F.2d 1554 (11th Cir.1989); U.S. v. One 1978 Mercedes Benz, Four-Door Sedan, 711 F.2d 1297 (5th Cir.1983); U.S. v. Kemp, 690 F.2d 397 (4th Cir.1982); U.S. v. Bush, 647 F.2d 357 (3d Cir.1981). Only three circuits have held the procedure in question to have been a violation of a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. See, U.S. v. Dixon, 1 F.3d 1080 (10th Cir.1993); U.S. v. Lasanta, 978 F.2d 1300 (2d Cir.1992); U.S. v. $149,442.43 in U.S. Currency, 965 F.2d 868 (10th Cir.1992); U.S. v. Linn, 880 F.2d 209 (9th Cir.1989). 5 We have examined these federal decisions and find the rationale employed by the majority view to be persuasive.

Several state...

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7 cases
  • Florida v. White
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • May 17, 1999
    ...motion, but later denied it after the jury returned a guilty verdict. On appeal, the Florida First District Court of Appeal affirmed. 680 So. 2d 550 (1996). Adopting the position of a majority of state and federal courts to have considered the question, the court rejected respondent's argum......
  • White v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • February 26, 1998
    ...A. David, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Respondent. ANSTEAD, Justice. We have for review the opinion in White v. State, 680 So.2d 550 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996). We accepted jurisdiction to answer the following question certified to be of great public WHETHER THE WARRANTLESS SEIZURE......
  • FLORIDA v. WHITE
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • May 17, 1999
    ...motion, but later denied it after the jury returned a guilty verdict. On appeal, the Florida First District Court of Appeal affirmed. 680 So. 2d 550 (1996). Adopting the position of a majority of state and federal courts to have considered the question, the court rejected respondent's argum......
  • Moore v. State, 1D00-1073.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • October 26, 2001
    ...n. 17 (Fla.1992). Thus, the standard as to whether a custodial interrogation has occurred is an objective one. See White v. State, 680 So.2d 550, 556 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996). Here, we conclude that, under Innis, it was error to admit the inculpatory statement by appellant. Officer Witherington'......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The automobile exception swallows the rule: Florida v. White.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 90 No. 3, March 2000
    • March 22, 2000
    ...505 (1993). A majority of state courts that have addressed similar state forfeiture laws have upheld them. See, e.g., State v. White, 680 So. 2d 550, 554 (Fla. Dist. App. Ct. 1996) (citing State v. Brickhouse, 20 Kan. App. 2d 495 (Kan. 1995); State v. McFadden, 63 Wash. App. 441 (Wash. Ct. ......

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