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Police Show of Authority is Sufficient for a Seizure

In Florida, police officers are not allowed to seize a person without a reasonable belief based on specific facts that the person is engaging, or is about to engage, in criminal activity. If police officers do seize or detain a person without the required reasonable suspicion, any evidence found on the person, such as illegal drugs or guns, will be inadmissible and thrown out of court. This seizure does not necessarily require a physical detention or even a command directed at the person. If the action of the police officers indicate a show of authority without direct commands or a physical seizure, it can still be considered a “seizure” under the search and seizure laws in Florida.

For instance, in a recent marijuana case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was sitting on the steps of an apartment complex. Several police cars drove up and six police officers approached the area where the defendant was sitting with bullet proof vests and guns drawn. The police officers were there to raid one of the apartments. They had no knowledge the defendant was involved in criminal activity. None of the police officers touched the defendant or even addressed him specifically. When he saw the police officers approaching him, the defendant threw down a few bags of marijuana. He was then arrested, and the police officers found more marijuana in his pocket. He was charged with felony possession of marijuana.

His criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the marijuana arguing that the defendant was seized when the officers approached him without any reasonable suspicion since the defendant was merely sitting on the steps. The court agreed to throw out the evidence of the marijuana. In determining whether police action constitutes a seizure, the court must determine whether a reasonable person would feel like he/she was free to leave the area under the circumstances. If the court determined that a reasonable person would not feel free to leave given the actions of the police, this constitutes a seizure that is illegal unless the police officers can show specific evidence of the defendant’s criminal activity. The court found that when several police officers approached the defendant in full uniform with guns drawn, the defendant did not reasonably feel like he could leave. This was a seizure under Florida law without legal justification so the evidence of the marijuana found during the illegal seizure was inadmissible.