Florida arrest laws
In a previous blog, we discussed when law enforcement may legally conduct traffic stops and we learned that police can conduct a traffic stop when they have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has been committed. However, there is another way for law enforcement to legally stop your vehicle: reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); Fla. Stat. § 901.151.
If an officer possesses reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity, they may legally stop your vehicle and investigate the suspected criminal activity. A traffic stop of this nature is commonly referred to as a Terry stop. This standard does not apply to stops based on traffic violations; those stops must be supported by probable cause (which is a higher standard of certainty).
Additionally, pursuant to a Terry stop, an officer cannot arrest the driver or its passengers and the officer cannot search the vehicle or its occupants without gaining the consent of the driver or its occupants. However, they can ask questions about the suspected criminal activity, they can request a search of the vehicle, they can look for contraband that is in plain view, and they can have a drug-sniffing dog walk around the vehicle during the course of the investigation. If the Terry stop and resulting investigation do not reveal additional evidence to support probable cause for an arrest, the stopping officer must allow the driver and its occupants to leave the scene.
An example of the distinction between reasonable suspicion supporting aTerry stop and probable cause necessary to effect an arrest occurred in State v. Lopez, 19 Fla.L.Weekly Supp. 934a (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. 2012). In Lopez, the defendant was observed to approach a residence with cash in hand. A person opened the door to the residence and eventually exchanged a “large pill bottle” for the money. The defendant left the scene and the detectives requested a traffic stop of the defendant’s vehicle. Once the vehicle was stopped, the defendant was removed from the vehicle and placed on the ground where he remained while his vehicle was searched. Eventually, narcotics were found and defendant was arrested for trafficking.
Judge Milton Hirsch stated: [internal citations removed]
“That Det. Washington’s curiosity was piqued is clearly understandable. That he felt himself obliged to investigate further is clearly appropriate. That he ordered Mr. Lopez’s arrest, and the search of his car, is clearly unreasonable.”
“Det. Washington’s observations gave rise to that “articulable reasonable suspicion” that justify the police in conducting an investigatory stop. This Terry doctrine is as fully applicable to the drivers of cars as it is to pedestrians. The officers in the case at bar were entitled to stop Mr. Lopez’s car and make further inquiries; indeed they would have been recreant in their duty had they failed to do so. Their authority was limited to “temporarily detain[ing] [Mr. Lopez] for the purpose of ascertaining [his] identity . . . and the circumstances surrounding [his] presence abroad which led the officer[s] to believe that [he] had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a criminal offense.” If, during the course of that investigatory stop, the officers had observed contraband in plain view, they would have been entitled to seize it. If, during the course of that investigatory stop, the officers had solicited and obtained Mr. Lopez’s consent to search his car, or his person, they would have been entitled to do so. If, during the course of that investigatory stop, the officers had developed probable cause, then — and only then — would they have been entitled to make an arrest. Where, as here, there was no contraband in plain view, there was no consent to search, and there was no probable cause, the seizure of Mr. Lopez’s person and the search of his car were unsupportable as a matter of law. The fruits of such a search must be suppressed.”
The Tampa criminal defense lawyers at Brandon Legal Group fight to protect our client’s rights against unreasonable and unlawful police activity. If you have been arrested, contact us today for your free consultation to see how we can help.