Your Consent to Search Has Its Limits


The facts in the case of Huey Lee Oldham versus the State of Florida are as follows:

Deputies from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office went to Mr. Oldham's home to investigate a neighbor's complaint that Oldham was manufacturing methamphetamine on his property. As deputies approached the home, they made contact with Oldham who was walking away from a smoldering fire pit on the north side of the residence. One of the deputies explained they were there to investigate a complaint that he was manufacturing methamphetamine on his property.  They asked him what he was burning.  Mr. Oldham stated that he was stripping and burning copper wire and scrap metal. One of the deputies asked Oldham if he could look around the fire pit area to verify that he was burning copper wire and not manufacturing methamphetamine.  Oldham agreed.
The deputy testified that the area around the fire pit was littered with stuff like copper wire, electronics, cinder blocks, and batteries. As the deputy looked around the fire pit, he saw a small “pill-style” plastic case on top of a pile of cinder blocks or electronics. A portion of a plastic baggie was sticking out of the container. The deputy opened the container and saw a white powdery substance that tested positive for methamphetamine.
On appeal, Oldham argued that the officer's search of the closed plastic container exceeded the scope of Oldham's to search the fire pit area.  The appellate court agreed with Oldham stating that the deputy's limited request to inspect the fire pit to confirm that Oldham was burning wire and not operating a methamphetamine lab defined the scope of the search he intended to conduct as well as the scope of Oldham's consent.  
The appellate court continued on to say that a reasonable person would not have understood this request to include a search of closed containers in the vicinity of the fire pit. Thus, when the deputy opened the plastic case containing the methamphetamine, he exceeded the scope of Oldham's consent.

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