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Police in Florida Cannot Grab Suspect Without Reasonable Suspicion of Criminal Activity

The Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures in Florida. What constitutes a search and/or seizure is not always obvious. For instance, if the police pull you over while driving, that is clearly a seizure under the law. If the police start searching your vehicle after the stop, that is clearly a search under the law. However, some encounters with the police are not so obviously searches and seizures.

For a criminal defense lawyer trying to get evidence thrown out of a criminal case, the attorney must argue that the encounter was a seizure and/or search and that the police did not have specific evidence that the defendant was involved in criminal activity to justify the seizure and/or search.

In a recent robbery case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant had allegedly robbed a convenience store with a gun while wearing a mask. The cashier put the money in a bag, and the suspect left. The police searched the area and found the defendant on the street. He matched the description of the robber, but he was wearing different clothes. The police officer blocked his path and asked him to come talk to the officer. The officer then put his hands on the defendant’s chest and back to see if his heart rate was elevated. The police officer detained the defendant, searched the area and found evidence of the robbery in the nearby bushes. They also obtained statements from the defendant. The defendant was arrested for armed robbery.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained by the police after stopping the defendant because it was an illegal search and seizure. The court found that initially this was a consensual encounter. The police are free to ask a suspect to stop, answer questions and let the police search them. If the suspect agrees, the police can proceed. However, if the police do not have consent, what they can do with a suspect is limited. If the police do not have specific indications that the person is or was recently involved in criminal activity, the police officer cannot detain the suspect and cannot grab him to check his heart rate. In this case, the police just had a general description of the robber. That was not enough to detain the defendant, grab him and try and discover evidence by checking his heart rate. As a result, the criminal defense attorney’s motion to suppress the evidence was granted.