Protecting Fourth Amendment Rights

The Fourth Amendment protects people against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Whether the police have a legal basis for stopping and/or arresting a person depends on the “totality of the circumstances” surrounding each stop or arrest, so it is important to examine the specific facts in a case to determine if a person has been illegally seized. Here are some of the cases in which we successfully challenged a stop or an arrest of our client.

Selected Cases Defending Against Illegal Searches and Seizures

In Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000), we successfully argued that a juvenile’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the police stopped him based solely upon on an anonymous tip that he was carrying a gun in a public place. The United States Supreme Court unanimously agreed, holding that the anonymous tip lacked sufficient signs of reliability to establish the reasonable suspicion necessary for a stop, where it was not accompanied by observations of predictive behavior that would let the police test the unknown informant’s knowledge or credibility.

In Albo v. State, 477 So. 2d 1071 (Fla. 3d DCA 1985), we successfully argued that our client’s arrest was illegal where the officer relied on incorrect information in the police computer showing that our client had a suspended license. The court explained: “Our decision is meant to inspire the correction of records, or at least eliminate any reliance upon uncorrected ones.”

The police cannot just stop anybody who is near a person suspected of committing a crime. In Louis v. State, 589 So. 2d 430 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991), the police had a valid basis to stop one of three pedestrians, but that did not give the police the right to stop and frisk the other pedestrians since mere presence at the scene of an investigatory stop does not justify a stop. More than merely unusual conduct is needed to justify a stop by the police. The unusual conduct must be related to a crime that has been or may be committed. Thus, a middle school student who passed out in the bathroom and appeared subdued and a “little pale” did not provide reasonable suspicion to believe that he was involved in illegal activity or violating school rules, so requiring him to empty his pockets and book bag was illegal. C.G. v. State, 941 So. 2d 503 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006).

Similarly, being in a place that might be considered out of place does not provide a basis for the police to stop a person. For example, a black man walking in a predominately white neighborhood does not justify an investigatory stop. Phillips v. State, 781 So. 2d 477 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001). Riding a bicycle slowly through a residential area in the early morning does not give the police a basis to stop the rider. Mullins v. State, 366 So. 2d 1162 (Fla. 1978). Walking with a fishing pole towards water open to the public at 3 a.m. in a “high class” neighborhood where there had been recent burglaries does not permit the police to stop the person. As the court explained in Levin v. State, 449 So. 2d 288, 289 (Fla. 3d DCA 1983), “being out on the public street during late and unusual hours cannot constitute a valid basis to temporarily detain and frisk an individual.” Affirmed, State v. Levin, 452 So. 2d 562 (Fla. 1984).

Of course, people can consent to talk to the police or to let the police search their property, but if the police go too far, the Fourth Amendment is violated. For example, in Hidalgo v. State, 959 So. 2d 353 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007), a consensual encounter with the police became an illegal detention when the police conducted a pat-down search. In Dominguez v. State, 616 So. 2d 506 (Fla. 3d DCA 1993), our client gave police officers consent to search his apartment for drugs. Without asking, the officers then brought in a narcotics detection dog, who found drugs in a wall. The court agreed with our argument that the drugs had to be suppressed because the consent given to the officers did not by implication include the subsequent entry by the dog and its handler, and thus the officers exceeded the scope of the consent given.

Evidence that is obtained as a result of an illegal stop or arrest can be suppressed. Thus, in Adams v. State, 830 So. 2d 911 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002), a police officer tackled the defendant, handcuffed him, and took him to the police station, all without explanation. This amounted to a de facto arrest without any basis. A later confession, given at the police station after Miranda rights were read to the defendant, was tainted by the illegal arrest and so should have been suppressed. The same result was reached in Johnson v. State, 813 So. 2d 1027 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002), where the police officer illegally arrested our client by handcuffing him and bringing him to the police station, so a statement given less than two hours later at the station was tainted by the illegal arrest and should have been suppressed. Where a confession follows an illegal arrest, it can be suppressed even if the person is read his or her rights before making the confession. J.P. v. State, 695 So. 2d 464 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997).