One questioin clients ask us regarding criminal cases in Florida is whether the police can stop a person if all that person does is run from the police. The Florida Supreme Court recently decided a case that helps answer that question. As background information, keep in mind that the Florida and United States Constitutions provide that the police are not allowed to stop a person without specific facts suggesting the person is, or has recently been, involved in criminal activity. With that in mind, the general rule has been that running from the police, by itself, is not a basis for stopping a person or arresting them for the crime of resisting without violence. The idea is that if the police do not have specific evidence that a person is, or has recently been, involved in criminal activity, the police officer does not have a right to stop the person so the person can run all he/she wants from the police.
However, in a recent Florida criminal case, the police were responding to a illegal drug and criminal trespass complaint in a high crime area. The police arrived and saw the defendant who ran as soon as he saw the police. The police officers told the defendant to stop, but he kept running. The defendant was ultimately caught and arrested for resisting without violence.
The defendant’s criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the criminal charges arguing that it was not illegal for the defendant to run from the police and the police did not have a right to stop the defendant because the police did not have any evidence that this particular defendant was involved in criminal activity before he ran. The Florida court disagreed and determined that the arrest for resisting without violence was lawful. The rationale was that once the defendant ran at the sight of the police in a high crime area, that provided the reasonable suspicion of criminal activity needed to justify the command to stop. When the defendant failed to stop when commanded to by the police, he was committing the crime of resisting without violence.
So, what could or should the defendant have done? Assuming he was not doing anything wrong and did not have any illegal drugs or weapons on him, he should have just stayed where he was. Standing around in a high crime area certainly does not give the police the right to stop or search a person. Even if the defendant did have drugs or weapons on him at the time, if he remained still when the police arrived, they would not have had a legal reason to search him without more specific evidence that he was involved in criminal activity. The police can always ask a person if they can search him, but a person always has a right to refuse such a search request.