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Florida Police Were Permitted to Detain Suspect for Wearing a Bulletproof Vest at Church

In Florida, the Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures from law enforcement. This means the police cannot just stop, detain or search a person based on speculative reasons or for no reason at all. Depending on the circumstances and the nature of the intrusion into a person’s privacy, the police must have some level of specific proof that a person is, or may become, involved in criminal activity. For an initial detention where the police stop a person to briefly investigate possible criminal activity, the police must have reasonable suspicion of a danger or criminal activity. This suspicion must be based on specific facts, not a hunch.

In a recent case just south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was at a private church function uninvited and wearing a bulletproof vest. The police were called, and when they arrived, the defendant walked away. The police officers asked the defendant some questions and then detained him to investigate further. As the police were detaining and questioning the defendant, they noticed a bulge in his pocket. They patted the defendant down and found a gun. The defendant was arrested.

The criminal defense lawyer argued that the police unlawfully detained the defendant because there was no reasonable basis to believe that he had committed, or was about to commit, a crime. It is not illegal to wear a bulletproof vest in public, and the defendant did not give any indication that he was involved in criminal activity.

This is a judgment call that the court has to make. Everyone agreed that the defendant was detained by the police. The question was whether the police had reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was about to commit a crime. There is little evidence specifically indicating he was, but from a practical standpoint, if there is a stranger at a school or church or other place where people congregate wearing a bulletproof vest, the courts are probably going to side with the police every time, especially if the police find a gun after the fact.