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Police Officer Cannot Stop and Search Suspect on a Hunch in Florida

Each person in Florida has a Constitutionally protected right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. If a police officer has probable cause to believe a person is committing a crime, the police officer may be able to stop a person and conduct a search. However, when the officer assumes a person is committing a crime or is going on a hunch or suspicion, any stop and search of the suspect will likely be illegal and result in the evidence recovered being thrown out of court.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer was driving through an area that had experienced many recent burglaries and other criminal activity. However, he was not actually responding to a burglary call or a call of any specific criminal activity. While driving through the area, he saw the defendant standing next to a car in the parking lot of a closed business late at night. When the defendant saw the police officer, he entered the vehicle and drove off quickly. The police officer then stopped the defendant. A K-9 walked around the car and alerted to the odor of illegal drugs. The police officer searched the defendant’s car and found marijuana and a handgun inside. The defendant was arrested for possession of marijuana and carrying a concealed firearm without a permit.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the marijuana and the firearm. The court agreed, and the marijuana and gun charges were thrown out. Because the police officer did not observe the defendant engaging in any criminal activity, he was not authorized to stop him and search his vehicle.

Flight from a police officer in a high crime area can, in some cases, provide a police officer with sufficient basis to investigate the situation further. However, it is not sufficient to stop and search someone just because he leaves the area, whether on foot or in a vehicle, when a police officer shows up. Where the police officer just assumes a person is doing something illegal because he/she is in a bad neighborhood and leaves when the police officer shows up, that is not going to be enough for a legal search and seizure in Florida.