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Understanding Florida Stop and Frisk Law

You are walking down Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard headed to a local restaurant. Can a police officer stop and frisk you? The answer is no. What if you had a few drinks and are stumbling or appear intoxicated? Under that scenario, an officer may have a basis to stop you and perform a search, pursuant to Florida law.

Florida police officers may seize a person only if there is reasonable suspicion to arrest the individual for a criminal act. This means that if you are walking down the street in a perfectly normal fashion, an officer cannot simply stop and search you for no reason. They must have some reasonable suspicion that you have committed, or are participating in, an illegal act. The reasonable suspicion requirement underpinning Florida’s Stop and Frisk law is based on the seminal U.S. Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that when a police officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, the officer may stop and briefly seize an individual, even if there is not enough evidence to arrest the person. The officer may then use their training and expertise to determine if there is more evidence to form the basis of an arrest requiring “probable cause.”

Keep in mind, if an officer lacked reasonable suspicion for the initial stop or probable cause to make the arrest, your West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer can challenge the arrest in court and possibly have any criminal charges thrown out.

Florida’s Stop and Frisk Law

The stop and frisk law is codified in Florida General Statute 901.151. It states, in pertinent part, that whenever a police officer encounters “any person under circumstances which reasonably indicate that such person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a violation of the criminal laws of this state…” the officer may temporarily detain this person for the purpose of ascertaining the identity of the person temporarily detained and the circumstances leading the police officer to believe this person may have “committed, was committing, or was about to commit,” a criminal offense.

The statute goes on to state that “no person shall be temporarily detained…” longer than is “reasonably necessary.” Basically, this means that a police officer does not have carte blanche to stop you and keep you there for hours on end.

If a police officer exceeds a reasonable period of time in gaining information about you, any and all information the officer learned to formulate probable cause to arrest you could be dismissed or thrown out of court under the “fruit of the poison tree” doctrine. This doctrine basically stands for the proposition that an illegal or unconstitutional basis for a search negates any and all evidence obtained from that illegal and/or unconstitutional action by the police officer.

Remember, under Florida law, you are not required to provide law enforcement officials your identification, tell them your name or even speak to them.

Contact an Experienced West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you or a loved one was arrested after being suddenly stopped and searched by a police officer, you have rights and may have a basis to challenge the warrantless search. Contact the Skier Law Firm, P.A. in West Palm Beach so we can set up a time to meet and discuss your legal options.

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