As criminal defense lawyers in Jacksonville and the North Florida area, a very common scenario that we see a lot occurs when police are patrolling what they call high crime areas and a suspect runs when he/she sees police in the area. A common question results from this scenario. When the police are in a high crime area and see someone running from them but there is no evidence of a specific crime occurring, what can the police do? This issue has been addressed by courts in Florida and all over the country. Years ago, the United States Supreme Court decided that when a person is unprovoked and runs from the police in a high crime area, the police have a right to chase the person and briefly detain him/her to investigate further, i.e. to quickly determine if the person ran because he/she was involved in criminal activity.
However, the police can not do more than that without specific evidence of criminal activity or specific evidence that the person is armed and a possible threat to the police officer’s safety. If a person runs upon seeing police, the police officer chases and catches him/her and then searches the suspect for drugs and/or weapons, that is an illegal search. The chase and the brief detention are legal, but the search would be illegal without specific evidence that the person was committing a crime or armed. Running from the police in a high crime area allows the police to chase and stop the suspect but, without more evidence, it does not allow the police officer to pat down or search the suspect. If the police do conduct a pat down or search under those circumstances and find illegal drugs or guns, that evidence should be thrown out of court.