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The Florida Bar

Unlawful Search and Seizure

Our Broward County Criminal Attorneys often advise clients that there are three different levels of encounters between police and citizens for the purpose of Fourth Amendment analysis. The Fourth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights and guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. The first level is a consensual encounter between a police officer and citizen where there is only minimal contact. The second level is a more investigatory stop where the officer may reasonably detain a citizen temporarily if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. Note that a citizen encounter becomes an investigatory stop once the officer shows authority in a manner that restrains the defendant’s freedom of movement such that a reasonable person would feel compelled to comply. The third level is an arrest, which must be supported by the officer’s probable cause to believe that a crime has been or is being committed.

A recent Broward County event illustrated the value of Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections. A man went to a local strip club and parked his car not in the lane of a side lot. The vehicle was not in a marked parking space, but it was also not blocking traffic. As he got out, he locked his doors and proceeded to go into the club. The man was stopped by police officers and was physically pulled back to his car. As he was questioned, one of the police officers shined a light into his car, illuminating what appeared to be a crack rock on the front seat. The man was subsequently arrested. Upon appeal, the appellate court ruled that the officers lacked the well-founded suspicion of criminal activity necessary to justify the detention. Therefore, the evidence found after the police detained the man should have been suppressed in court. The officers did not witness a crime and the vehicle was not blocking traffic. This is an example of unlawful search and seizure in Broward County.

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