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Do Jacksonville Police Officers Use Pedestrian Safety Laws As a Pretext To Search African American Citizens? And If So, At What Cost?

adobe-spark-postThe Florida Time Union released a story with some eye-popping statistics relating to the use of pedestrian citations in the city’s most crime ridden areas of Jacksonville.  Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys often challenge these pretextual stops, but the case law continues to generally support the use of profiling, as long as there is a lawful basis for the stop.  With so many pedestrian safety statutes on the books, it’s easy for a law enforcement officer to pick and choose who the officer wants to stop and question, under the guise of pedestrian safety.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers will often conduct a stop and talk or a stop and frisk search on individuals they believe are suspicious and if they uncover something illegal, they will make an arrest.  But what effect does their detention have on a citizen who has done nothing wrong?  Won’t that person feel profiled?  Unjustly singled out?  How big of a group is this?  How many citations do the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office issue where the person was engaged in otherwise lawful conduct and possessed nothing illegal on their person?  How many African American citizens have been stopped for violation of a pedestrian safety statute and not issued a citation simply so the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer could investigate them further?  An African American law abiding citizen living in a high crime area is sure to carry resentment if he or she feels continually harassed or is cited for violations of pedestrian safety statutes that are not enforced in the low crime, white areas of Jacksonville.

Also disturbing, is the report that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been issuing hundreds of citations despite the person not actually violating the statute.  Whether this true or not, it seems like the end desire of law enforcement (to drive out crime in crime ridden areas of Jacksonville) is laudable, but some of the methods (pretextual stops and searches) may do more damage than good.  So many crimes in predominantly African American, low income neighborhoods require the cooperation of citizens who live in that community.   When those people don’t trust law enforcement because of what they consider constant, unjustified harassment, they are less likely to cooperate in a criminal investigation.  Murders, rapes, robberies, burglaries can all go unsolved or unprosecuted because the State lacks the witnesses and evidence to proceed.  It would seem that if the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office spent more resources providing more law enforcement officers for those particular areas that need them the most and if those law enforcement officers developed, groomed, and maintained positive relationships with the citizens of those communities, more crimes would get solved and successfully prosecuted.

So, assuming that there is a cost of fractured relationships between citizens and law enforcement, what is the value of the pretextual stop?  Does it result in arrests for minor drug possession offenses?  Maybe.  But are these minor arrests worth the high cost?  Is law enforcement picking the low lying fruit, while the plump fruit at the top goes untouched?  Are we focusing on issuing citations to those that can’t afford to pay simply in the hopes that our net is cast wide enough to ensnare a few people who are carrying controlled substances or weapons?  What percentage of people who are stopped and/or cited are law abiding citizens who aren’t possessing any illegal items?  Has law enforcement lost them as prospective witnesses in other cases?  Have they lost them as sources of critical information?  These are all tough questions that need to be asked.  Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys will continue to challenge pretextual stops and detentions.  Some of those challenges will be successful.  Some won’t.  While those legal decisions will mean everything to the citizen charged with a crime, the overall damage that pretextual stops may cause to the relationship between minority groups and law enforcement may be a much bigger global issue.


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Jeremy Lasnetski Florida Bar
Board Certified Criminal Trial Attorney
Shorstein, Lasnetski, & Gihon

Jeremy Lasnetski has been practicing law in Jacksonville for over 16 years. He focuses his practice on criminal defense and immigration. Mr. Lasnetski received his Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from the University of Florida in 1997 and went on to obtain a law degree and an M.B.A. from the University of Florida in 2001.

After graduation, Mr. Lasnetski accepted a position as a prosecutor at the State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville. During the next 6 1/2 years as a prosecutor, Mr. Lasnetski tried more than 50 criminal trials, including more than 40 felony trials. Those trials have included First Degree Murder, Armed Robbery, Trafficking, Domestic Battery, DUI and many other charges. During his career at the State Attorney’s Office, Mr. Lasnetski gained experience in the Misdemeanor unit, the Felony unit, the Gun unit, the Special Prosecution unit, and the Repeat Offender unit. He was promoted in 2007 to Division Chief of the Repeat Offender Unit.

Mr. Lasnetski was also a full time member of the Homicide Prosecution Team. As a member of that team, Mr. Lasnetski would respond to the scene of homicides and participate in the law enforcement investigation from start to finish. After the investigation concluded, Mr. Lasnetski would determine whether prosecution was warranted. If so, he would maintain control of the case throughout the entire criminal process, from beginning of investigation through sentencing.

As a criminal defense attorney, Mr. Lasnetski has used the knowledge and experience he gained at the State Attorney’s Office in the legal representation of those in need in every criminal law area, including DUI, Domestic Violence, Felonies, Misdemeanor, Federal and many more.

Mr. Lasnetski is a Florida Bar Board Certified Criminal Trial attorney. The Florida Bar has certified Mr. Lasnetski as an expert in the area of criminal trial law. For more information on board certification, please visit the Florida Bar’s website at www.floridabar.org/certification.

Mr. Lasnetski was recognized by Jacksonville Magazine as one of 2011, 2012, and 2013 Northeast Florida’s Best Lawyers and as one of The National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Lawyers for 2011, 2012, and 2013.