In Florida, a lot of criminal cases are initiated based on fairly routine traffic stops. What might start out as a speeding or red light violation can easily turn into a DUI, felony drug or driving with a suspended license arrest. Additionally, a lot of arrest warrants are served based on traffic stops.
Police officers have a lot of leeway to make traffic stops. If a police officer says a driver violated a traffic law, he/she will be able to pull that driver over, and any attempt to contest it will be a difficult credibility contest between the suspect and the police officer. A police officer in Florida can also use the information he/she obtains from the computer when running a license tag to make a traffic stop. For instance, police officers will often run tags on their computer to determine if the registered owner of the vehicle has a suspended license or outstanding arrest warrant. A police officer can stop a driver if the officer runs the tag to the vehicle in the computer and learns that the owner of the vehicle has a suspended license or outstanding warrant. This is so even though we all know a vehicle owner is not necessarily the current driver.
In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer ran a tag and learned that the owner of a vehicle had a suspended license. The officer conducted a traffic stop and asked for the driver’s license. The driver was not the owner of the vehicle, but he also had his driving privileges suspended. He was arrested for driving with a suspended license.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the stop because the defendant was not the owner of the vehicle and was not the person the officer was looking for based on the information in his computer system. The court disagreed. A police officer is allowed to stop and detain a person if he/she has reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe the person is committing a crime. The law in Florida provides that when a police officer learns that a vehicle owner may be committing a crime (i.e. driving with a suspended license) or may have committed a crime (i.e. has an outstanding warrant), this is sufficient to allow a traffic stop for further investigation. As long as the driver sufficiently matches the description of the owner, the police officer can make the traffic stop and investigate further.
Of course, this does not mean the police officer can pull anyone over based on incriminating information about the owner from the computer system. If the police officer runs a tag and learns that the Asian female owner has a suspended license or outstanding warrant, the officer cannot stop the vehicle or detain the driver if he/she can see that the driver is a white male.
However, police officers do have some leeway in making stops and investigating drivers when they are driving cars owned by someone with a warrant or a suspended license. Therefore, if you are borrowing someone’s vehicle or drive a vehicle titled in another person’s name, be aware that you may be subject to traffic stops for no apparent reason.