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Police Could Not Stop Suspect For Drugs Based on Alleged Hand to Hand Transaction in Florida

When the police approach someone and stop him/her to ask questions about a crime, it is typically considered a detention in Florida. The police are not allowed to detain someone for investigation without consent or specific evidence that the person is involved in criminal activity. It is very common for police to be patrolling what they call high crime or high drug areas and watch what they believe to be drug transactions. The most common suspected drug transaction that results in a detention is the hand to hand transaction. However, when a police officer observes a suspected hand to hand transaction, that does not necessarily give the police the right to stop the people involved.

In a recent crack cocaine case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the police were watching an apartment complex that they said was in an area known for street level drug activity. The police observed the defendant walk up to another person receive some amount of cash and then give something to the other person. The police assumed this was a drug sale. The police then stopped the defendant and found money and crack cocaine.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the money and crack cocaine because the police did not have a legal basis to stop the defendant and search him. The police can stop and investigate a person they reasonably believe is committing a crime. In the context of a street level drug sale, the police would need to show more than a hand to hand transaction. The police would need to establish how often drugs are sold in the area, more specifics about the particular transaction and/or possibly something about the individuals involved in the transaction. In this case, the police said it was a high crime area, but apparently the police had not made a drug arrest in the area in more than a month. The police also knew nothing about the two people involved in the transaction (i.e. did one or both of them have a criminal background).

These situations always depend on the particular circumstances of the case. If the police have specific evidence indicating a drug transaction occurred or perhaps have specific evidence that the people involved have a history of drug crimes, a court would be more likely to allow the search and seizure. However, if the police are working on assumptions without facts to support them, the court is more likely to throw out the incriminating evidence.