Standing on a street corner, at a bus stop, walking through a neighborhood even doing nothing wrong, you may still be a target for criminal charges. Florida recognizes criminal loitering as being in a location at a time or manner not usual for law-abiding citizens. This is a broad definition that may result in charges for completely innocent people.
If you have been charged with criminal loitering, protect yourself from further police harassment by contacting Herman Law, P.A. Our experienced criminal defense attorney will aggressively advocate for your rights, protecting your reputation, freedom, and future.
What is the Crime of Loitering?
Florida statute section 856.021 makes it unlawful to loiter or prowl in a place, at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding citizens, under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of people or property in the vicinity.
What does that really mean? It means that you can be criminally charged for being in an area if the police believe you are behaving suspiciously and about to harm other people or property.
What Does the Prosecution Have to Prove?
To be found guilty of loitering, the prosecution must prove
- A defendant loitered in a place, at a time or in a manner that is unusual for law-abiding citizens; and
- The loitering was under circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe the defendant was about to harm the safety of other people or property.
These elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
What Circumstances Lead a Reasonable Person to Believe Harm Will Come to People or Property?
Florida’s criminal loitering statute describes three situations where it is reasonable to believe the defendant is likely to cause alarm or concern for the safety of other people or property. Those include when the defendant:
- Flees upon seeing a police officer;
- Refuses to identify himself or herself; or
- Attempts to hide himself or herself or an object.
What Does a Police Officer Have to do Before Arresting Someone for Loitering?
Unless a defendant fled, the police must allow the defendant to satisfy any concerns for the safety of people or property by identifying himself or herself and explaining the reason for his or her presence at the location and any unusual behavior.
What is the Punishment for Criminal Loitering?
Loitering is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by no more than sixty days in prison or a fine of up to $500.
What Defenses May Apply?
- The most common defense to loitering is that the defendant’s behavior did not rise to the level to cause reasonable alarm or concern for the safety of people or property. The key to this defense is that the defendant had an understandable reason for being at a location or acting a certain way.
- To be charged with loitering, a police officer must have witnessed the defendant’s behavior. More specifically, an anonymous call reporting suspicious behavior is not enough to support loitering charges.
- The police must give the defendant the opportunity to explain the reason for his or her presence or behavior. If the police did not give the defendant a reasonable opportunity to explain the situation, the charges should be thrown out.
- The concern for the safety of other people or property must be based on behavior observed before the police make contact with the defendant. Unusual behavior after the police attempt contact should not support a charge for loitering.
Florida Case Law on Loitering
Florida cases make it clear that a charge for loitering will not be supported merely by suspicions that the defendant is up to no good. Instead, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a justifiable and immediate or imminent threat that criminal activity was afoot. R.M. v. Florida, 754 So.2d 849 (Fla. Dist. Ct. of App., 2d Dist. 2000).
Furthermore, the police must have probable cause to stop and arrest a defendant for loitering that is more than circumstantial. In one case, the Florida Court of Appeals examined a case where police officers, having knowledge of reported burglars driving a specific type of car, arrested a defendant seen riding in that type of car for loitering. However, the police officers’ observations witnessing the defendant walking down a public street in the vicinity of a residential neighborhood did not justify believing criminal activity was afoot. Without observations tying the defendant to the prior burglaries, the police lacked probable cause to arrest the defendant for loitering. Rucker v. Florida, 921 So.2d 857 (Fla. Dist. Ct. of App., 2d Dist. 2006).
Similarly, discovering evidence of other crimes, such as drug possession, does not in itself suggest immediate criminal activity is about to occur. This is because the offense of loitering must occur before the arrest for loitering. Any crime discovered after the arrest for loitering cannot support a reasonable or justifiable basis for believing the defendant posed an immediate or imminent threat. Stephens v. Florida, 987 So.2d 182 (Fla. Dist. Ct. of App., 2d Dist. 2008).
Contact Our West Palm Beach Loitering Defense Attorney
If you are charged with loitering, the facts of your case are extremely important. The sequence of events, how and when statements were made, and the circumstances surrounding are essential to the criminal elements of loitering. An experienced attorney can make sure the facts are not used against you. In such a case, rely on Herman Law P.A. to represent you through all aspects of your criminal case and obtain the best possible outcome for you. Contact us now for a free consultation regarding your case.