In Florida, the United States and Florida constitutions afford citizens certain rights to prevent police officers from unreasonably stopping them, detaining them and searching them. The term “unreasonable” in this context refers to police searches and seizures that are done without sufficient, specific evidence to establish the person is involved in criminal activity or possesses evidence of criminal activity.
While a police officer cannot go up to a person who looks suspicious and stop him for interrogation, a police officer can always go up to a person and ask questions in a consensual manner. For instance, in a recent marijuana case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer saw two juveniles walking down the street during school hours carrying full backpacks. The police officer stopped his vehicle without activating his emergency lights or siren and asked the juveniles some questions. The police officer asked the juveniles what they were doing there and for their identifications. Both juveniles agreed to answer the questions and provide their ID’s. Next, the police officer asked if he could search their backpacks, and the juveniles consented to the search. The police officer found marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia inside and arrested them both for possession of marijuana.
This was a legal police encounter. A police officer can always go up to a person and ask basic questions and ask for ID. Of course, the other side of the coin is that a person can refuse to answer the questions and walk away. As long as there is no evidence the person is involved in criminal activity, the police officer should not have a legal basis to stop the person and make them answer questions or provide ID. In this case, the juveniles agreed to talk to the police officer and let him search their backpacks to find the marijuana. Obviously, that was a bad decision and one was likely the result of the juveniles not knowing their constitutional rights. If a person has marijuana or other drugs on him/her and consents to a police officer search, that is a guaranteed arrest and criminal charge.