In Florida, in order for the police to detain someone for further investigation, whether for a drug related crime or a DUI, the police must have some specific evidence of the criminal activity before going further with the investigation.
In a recent case, the police observed a person slumped in the driver’s seat of a car parked at a convenience store. The car was running. The police went to the car and saw the woman sleeping in the driver’s seat. The police knocked on the door to wake her but were unsuccessful. The police officer said he smelled an odor of alcohol coming from the inside of the vehicle. The police then opened the door. He had to shake the person to wake her. They ultimately conducted a DUI investigation and arrested her for DUI.
The criminal defense lawyer attempted to get any evidence that the defendant was intoxicated thrown out by arguing that the police did not have a legal basis to open her door and remove her from the vehicle. The court disagreed. In Florida, the police cannot search a vehicle or a person or seize or detain a person without specific evidence of criminal activity. In this case, the court found that the evidence that the woman was sleeping in the driver’s seat of a running car, the woman would not wake up with the police banging on the window and the odor of alcohol was sufficient for the police officer to open the woman’s car door and investigate further.
However, in a similar case, the court came to a different conclusion. In the other case, the person was asleep in the driver’s seat of a car parked at a restaurant. The police went to the vehicle and knocked on the window. The person awoke and looked at the police officer but refused to open his door until the police officer asked him five times. Only then did the driver get out of the car. At that point, the police officer testified that he observed signs that the driver was impaired by alcohol. In this DUI case, the evidence that the driver was impaired by alcohol was thrown out, and the DUI case was dropped. The difference in this case was that there was no specific evidence that the driver was committing a crime before the police officer ordered him to get out of his vehicle. The police cannot order someone to exit his/her vehicle without specific evidence of wrongdoing. The fact that someone is sleeping in his vehicle, without more, is not enough evidence that the person is committing a crime.