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Florida Police Try to Use “High Crime Area” to Justify Search

The constitution protects people in Florida and other states from unreasonable searches and seizures. That means the police cannot come up to a person and make demands, or search them, without specific evidence that the person is engaged in criminal activity or has evidence of criminal activity. The police often try to use the phrase “high crime area” to justify questionable searches that certainly would not be permissible in other areas. Granted, there are high crime areas in the Jacksonville, Florida area and throughout Florida, but the police cannot rely on that vague phrase alone to justify a search. The police need specific indications of criminal activity.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police were patrolling a “high crime area” and saw a man standing in a driveway with his hands in his pockets. The police approached him and demanded that he remove his hands from his pockets. The man refused. The police then asked the man if they could search him, and he refused that as well. The police then patted him down, felt what they believed to be cocaine in his pocket, removed the item which was a bag of cocaine and arrested him for possession of cocaine.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the cocaine based on the illegality of the search. Being in a high crime area is not a basis for a search. In this case, assuming the suspect was in a high crime area, he was doing nothing else to indicate he was involved in criminal activity. When the police came up to him and demanded that he take his hands from his pockets, that becomes a seizure. In order for that to be valid, the police must have some specific evidence of criminal activity. The police can, at times, pat someone down if they believe the person may be armed and there is a police safety issues. But again, they can’t just pat anyone down in a “high crime area”. They still need something specific to indicate there is a danger.

The police were free to approach the man and ask him if he would consent to a search of his pockets. They don’t need evidence or probable cause to just ask. However, once the man refused, they cannot move forward with a pat down or a search if they do not have the specific indicators justifying it. In this case, they did not so the evidence of the cocaine was thrown out along with the possession of cocaine charge.