Normally, for a police officer to stop or detain a person in Florida, the officer needs consent from the person or specific evidence that the person is involved in criminal activity. However, there are exceptions to the search and seizure laws, and one of them involves a situation where it appears to the police officer that a person’s welfare may be in danger. This often occurs when a person is asleep in the driver’s seat of a vehicle. The police officer will normally anticipate a DUI arrest in this situation, but he/she can use the welfare check exception as a reason to further investigate when the presence of alcohol and/or drugs are initially not apparent. In these cases, if the police officer reasonably believes the person may be at risk or need medical attention, the police officer can take steps to assist the person or investigate further to determine if there is in fact some kind of health risk or medical emergency. And if the police officer discovers a crime while doing this welfare check, then the officer can investigate that crime and make an arrest.
In a case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer was patrolling a mall parking lot and saw a vehicle parked behind one of the businesses where customers do not normally park. The officer approached the vehicle and noticed the defendant squatted down in the vehicle. The vehicle was running. The police officer knocked on the window and told the defendant to roll the window down. When the defendant complied, the police officer saw a bag of marijuana in the vehicle and arrested the defendant for possession of marijuana.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress arguing that the police officer did not have the legal authority to order the defendant to roll down his window so he could see into the vehicle. The criminal defense attorney argued that the police officer had no evidence that the defendant was involved in any criminal activity when he ordered the defendant to roll down his window. However, the court disagreed. The court found that the police officer had a legitimate reason to have the defendant roll down the window to make sure there was no medical problem. Since the police officer discovered the marijuana as soon as the window was rolled down, according to the police officer, he was within his rights to investigate the marijuana and make the arrest for possession of marijuana.