In a recent burglary and loitering case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the victim reported to police that a person knocked on his door asking for someone who didn’t live there and then left abruptly in a black vehicle. This occurred in a neighborhood with a lot of recent burglaries. The police responded to the area and stopped the defendant who was driving a black vehicle slowly in the neighborhood. The police officer stopped the vehicle and asked the defendant questions about why he was in the area and why he was driving slowly in front of the various houses. The police officer was not satisfied with the defendant’s answers and arrested him for loitering and prowling. The police officer then searched the defendant’s vehicle and found multiple items that had been reported stolen in burglaries in the area. He was then arrested for burglary as well.
The criminal defense lawyer challenged the charges arguing that the police officer did not have probable cause to stop the defendant, arrest him for loitering and prowling and then search his vehicle for evidence. In order for a person to be properly arrested for loitering and prowling, the state must show that the defendant’s conduct was unusual and indicated an immediate threat to the safety of persons or property. Vague suspicions are not sufficient for an arrest for loitering and prowling. A person driving slowly through a neighborhood and stopping occasionally may be suspicious, but is not a specific indication of a threat or criminal activity. Additionally, that behavior alone is not cause for alarm for public safety. As a result, the police officer did not have a legal basis to arrest the defendant for loitering and prowling. Since the initial arrest was unlawful, the search of the vehicle which uncovered the stolen items was also illegal. Therefore, the state could not use the evidence of the stolen items, and all of the charges were thrown out.