“Reasonable Suspicion” Key in Many Florida Criminal Cases

A criminal traffic defendant in Ohio this month was victorious in her appeal against a trooper who had stopped her and subsequently arrested her for DUI, reckless operation and failure to drive within marked lanes.
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The grounds for her appeal? The trooper lacked a “reasonable, articulable” suspicion upon which to stop her. The appellate court agreed, and her conviction was reversed.

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers are well aware of the fact that reasonable suspicion can play a key role in whether an officer had the right to stop a defendant in the first place.

Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard of proof, lesser than probable cause (which is required for arrest or warrants), but more than a suspicion or hunch. It has to be based on specific and articulable facts that officers say led them to believe the suspect is or was or is about to be involved in illegal activity.

Prosecutors have the burden of proof. If they can’t show that the officer had reasonable suspicion to initiate a stop, it’s possible that every piece of evidence gleaned after that point would be inadmissible in court.

But it takes a sound defense to successfully challenge that element of the case.

Another recent appeal, this one in Florida, James Palmer v. State of Florida, goes back to this same point. In that case, the defendant reportedly was spotted by an officer in an area that was marked with No Trespassing signs. The officer approached and the defendant fled. He was ultimately caught, arrested and charged with violation of probation by trespassing and resisting without violence. The court found that he had committed resistance by fleeing in a high crime area.

The defense team argued that fleeing alone, even in a high crime area, does not sufficiently establish reasonable suspicion. The officer must have had some reasonable suspicion prior to ordering the defendant to stop. The defendant’s response to police pursuit can’t retroactively be used to support the officer’s suspicion of criminal activity. The No Trespassing sign on the property wasn’t enough to establish suspicion of any criminal activity because there wasn’t any evidence that the defendant had improperly entered the building or the area.

Ultimately, the trial court dismissed the defendant’s trespass violation, but still revoked his probation for resisting arrest and sentenced him to two years behind bars.

The defense team, upon appeal, said that because the officer didn’t have any reasonable suspicion to stop him in the first place, he was free to ignore the officer’s order.

The prosecution, on the other hand, argued that if a defendant flees from police in a high-crime area, that’s enough to establish reasonable suspicion. The appellate court disagreed, finding that the officer would have needed reasonable suspicion prior to ordering the person to stop. The decision was based on the 2008 ruling in Hollingsworth v. State, Florida 4th DCA 2008.

The officers also lacked any reasonable suspicion on the trespass charge because a person’s mere presence on the property isn’t enough to show that they violated Florida Statute 810.08, which holds that a person willfully entered or remained in a structure/conveyance without permission or by refusing to depart.

Given the totality of all this, the appellate court reversed Palmer’s conviction.

The Ohio case, State v. Shaffer, had a similar outcome. The female defendant was stopped after the trooper noted her vehicle drifted onto the white line marker one time for approximately three seconds while she was on the interstate. He subsequently stopped her, smelled alcohol on her breath, conducted field sobriety tests and arrested her on suspicion of DUI, reckless driving and marked lane violation.

She ultimately plead no contest to the latter two charges, but she still appealed, saying that the trooper lacked reasonable suspicion when his only basis for the stop was that brief, three-second drift onto the white line. The appellate court agreed, ultimately tossing the entire conviction.

If you’ve been arrested, call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. The Ansara Law Firm serves Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
James Palmer v. State of Florida, Case No. 4D12-3783, Fourth District Court of Appeal, Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, St. Lucie County
Marked Lanes Violation Overturned for Lack of ‘Reasonable’ Suspicion, Aug. 20, 2013, By Bret Crow, Court News Ohio
More Blog Entries:
Fleeing From Florida Police Almost Never Goes as Planned, Aug. 5, 2013, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog