That question is too general to answer because it really depends on the circumstances of each case and what specific evidence the police officer has before he/she conducts a stop of a suspect. In our last blog entry, we discussed a case where a person was driving slowly and stopping in front of different houses in a neighborhood in which a lot of burglaries had recently taken place. The police officer stopped the suspect and arrested him for loitering and prowling which led to an arrest for burglary. It is possible that the initial stop was lawful, but the arrest for loitering and prowling was not because it was based on general suspicions rather than specific evidence.
In a similar burglary case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police officer was patrolling an area that also had a lot of recent burglaries. In the middle of the day, he saw the suspect wearing a hooded sweatshirt near the front door of a house in that area. He kept watching as the suspect walked around the house, opened a gate and walked towards the backyard. He appeared to cover his head with the hood as he did this. When the suspect walked back towards the front of the house, the police officer stopped him. The suspect named the person he was there to see, but that person did not live there. The police officer also observed that the suspect had gloves in his sweatshirt pocket. The police officer arrested him at that time. He later found evidence that the suspect had committed burglaries in the area.
The criminal defense lawyer challenged the initial stop of the defendant and the ultimately arrest. In order for the initial stop to be valid, the police officer must establish specific facts indicating the defendant was about to commit, or was committing, a crime, such as burglary or trespass. Mere suspicion is not enough.
In this case, the court agreed that the stop and arrest were legal. The explanation given by the court was not very extensive, but the key difference between this case and the prior case is that this defendant had entered onto the victim’s property and was committing a trespass. Whether the police officer had sufficient facts to reasonably believe the defendant was a trespasser rather than a friend or neighbor looking to see if someone was home is up for debate, but the court sided with the state in this one.