The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals rendered a decision this month that provided an uncommon interpretation of Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights. In the appeal, the defendant made a motion to suppress the discovery of a firearm and a controlled substance on his person, citing an unlawful search and seizure during a traffic stop. The motion was denied in the initial trial, but has now been reversed in the defendant's favor.
In the incident in question, the defendant was a passenger during a routine traffic stop in which a K-9 unit was deployed to further assess the vehicle and its passengers. Police video transcripts show that the defendant and the driver were both aggressively told keep their hands on the dashboard while the K-9 investigated the vehicle cabin. Expletives were used by the K-9 officer. The K-9 would go on to discover a firearm and marijuana on the defendant's person.
The defendant made a motion to suppress the items found on him during his trial on the grounds that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated and the K-9 search constituted an illegal search and seizure. The trial judge disagreed, but the Fifth District Court of Appeals considered a number of key factors:
- That seizure is legally defined by restraint of freedom of movement by means of physical force or show of authority
- The K-9 officer's aggressive tone
- Whether a reasonable person in the defendant's position would believe that they were restrained
Ultimately, the appeals court sided with the defendant, ruling that he was illegally seized during the traffic stop, making the items found on his person suppressible in court.
Closer Look at Police Procedure and Conduct
The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals decision comes at a time when both the justice system and much of the public nationwide have significant concerns about police procedure and conduct. Following a turbulent year in law enforcement that included a number of controversial deaths, a brighter light has been shined on police protocol to ensure that citizens' rights are protected when police intervention is necessary.
Not every request or order to comply with police officers is an infringement of constitutional rights—in fact, as the Fifth District Court also notes, very few of them are. However, it takes vigilant legal counsel to identify any violation of these rights and ensure that the accused is subject to fair due process both in and out of the courtroom.
If you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge in which you feel law enforcement acted inappropriately, then we invite you to call Herman Law, P.A. today. Our dedicated West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney offers a free initial consultation, so don't wait to schedule yours!