Many drug cases, DUI cases, gun cases and other kinds of criminal cases begin with a simple traffic stop in Florida. A police officer will make a routine traffic stop and then claim to observe signs that the driver is impaired from alcohol or smell the odor of marijuana or observe other suspicious signs of possible criminal activity. From there, a criminal investigation begins, and a much more serious police encounter results in an arrest.
When this happens, the criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to suppress any evidence of criminal activity that was obtained by the police officer after the initial stop if there is reason to believe the original stop of the defendant was unlawful. If successful and the court agrees that the original stop was illegal, then the evidence obtained after the stop will likely be thrown out followed by the criminal charges being dismissed.
In a recent marijuana case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer saw what he considered to be a suspicious green vehicle driven by the suspect. As they often do, the police officer ran the vehicle’s tag in his computer. His computer showed that the registration on the tag was for the same make of vehicle but a blue color. Based on the fact that the vehicle’s color did not match the color listed on the registration, the police officer stopped the vehicle. The police officer then smelled an odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle, searched it and found a large quantity of marijuana inside. The driver was arrested for felony possession of marijuana.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the marijuana evidence claiming that the police officer did not have a legal basis to stop the vehicle. In fact, the defendant testified that he had the vehicle repainted which explained the inconsistency with the registration. The court ruled in favor of the defendant. A police officer may not stop a driver based on a mere suspicion that he/she is breaking the law. The police officer must have a well-founded basis from specific facts suggesting criminal activity. In this case, the court noted that it is not illegal to drive a vehicle of a different color than what is listed on the registration. It is also not illegal to fail to contact the DMV and update them with the new color of one’s vehicle. As a result, the defendant in this case was not involved in any criminal activity when he was pulled over by the police officer. Noncriminal behavior can be sufficiently suspicious to justify a traffic stop and subsequent investigation, but merely having a different color vehicle than what is on the registration is not enough to qualify for suspicious behavior that can justify a seizure/traffic stop and investigation.