Court of Appeals Permits Investigatory Car Stop Against Florida Woman

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants protections against illegal searches and seizures by law enforcement. When an alleged Fourth Amendment violation occurs, the criminal defendant can file a motion to suppress. If the court grants the motion to suppress, the evidence seized in the course of the illegal search is excluded from trial. Florida’s First District Court of Appeals recently considered a defendant’s appeal of a motion to suppress in a Florida cocaine case.

Squad Car

The arresting officer testified that he reported to the site of a possible car accident. When he arrived, the defendant was standing next to a vehicle. He concluded that the vehicle’s damage was preexisting but noted that the defendant appeared very intoxicated, although he did not conduct any field sobriety tests. The officer told the defendant that if he saw her driving, he would arrest her. The defendant went inside a nightclub, and the police officer parked across the street to observe whether the plaintiff tried to drive her own vehicle. The police officer was dispatched to another call, but he returned to the nightclub immediately afterwards. As he arrived, the defendant was leaving in her vehicle. He followed the defendant, and although he did not observe her break any traffic laws or drive erratically, he concluded that she was almost certainly still intoxicated.

Upon stopping the appellant, the officer observed that the appellant was still extremely intoxicated, had slurred speech, had red and glassy eyes, and emitted a strong odor of alcohol. He asked her to perform field sobriety exercises, which she refused. He then placed her under arrest for DUI. The appellant refused to take a breath test. In a search incident to the arrest, a baggy of cocaine and a straw were recovered from the appellant’s pocket.

In her motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the traffic stop, she argued that the stop was illegal because she did not break any traffic laws and was not driving erratically. She further argued that the stop was unsupported by a founded suspicion of criminal activity, namely since the officer’s observation of her intoxication during the first encounter was not corroborated by any field sobriety exercises.

The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to prohibit vehicle stops unless there is a reasonable suspicion that there was a violation of the law. Law enforcement is allowed, however, to rely on the totality of the circumstances in considering whether the stop is legal.

In this case, the police officer did not observe erratic driving or other public safety concerns that would justify the stop. The police officer’s suspicion arose out of his experience observing the defendant as extremely intoxicated one hour before he observed her driving. The police officer concluded that the defendant was almost certainly still intoxicated, and he stopped her out of a concern for public safety.

The appeals court agreed with the prosecution. Florida case law provides that a legitimate concern for the safety of the motoring public is enough to warrant an investigatory stop to determine if the driver is tired or driving under the influence. The court concluded, based on the totality of the circumstances, that the officer had a founded suspicion that the appellant was committing a DUI and was a potential danger to the public, which would justify an investigatory stop.

If you are charged with a criminal offense in the Tampa Bay region, you should absolutely consider discussing your circumstances with a drug crime attorney. The U.S. Constitution affords those arrested or charged with a crime with certain rights. Will Hanlon at Hanlon Law has worked hard for the rights of his clients. Call Hanlon Law at 813-228-7095 or use our online form to set up an appointment if you need assistance with fighting a charge related to a sex offense, a drug crime, an assault, a gun crime, or any other type of offense.

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Photo Credit: Free-Photos, [CC0 License], via Pixabay 

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