In law enforcement work, there is a kind of “Twilight Zone” between an arrest and a voluntary interaction with an individual. In that zone lives the practice of “stop and frisk.” Here’s what you need to know if you find yourself subject to a stop and frisk interaction with Florida law enforcement.
In the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, individuals dealing with the government have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Courts have interpreted the Fourth Amendment to mean that searches of one’s person are unreasonable on their face, and a warrant or an exception to the right must exist for courts to find such searches to be within the law.
Stop And Frisk Exception
One exception relatively recently recognized is that of the right of law enforcement to conduct a brief search of an individual for investigatory and safety reasons. Under Florida’s stop and frisk statute, a law enforcement officer may temporarily detain or stop any person in public if it reasonably appears to the officer that the person is
About to commit a crime,
in the midst of committing a crime, or
has committed a crime
Courts have found this to be reasonable if law enforcement uses the stop to
Determine the individual’s identity or
to investigate further the circumstances that caused the officer to believe that a crime has been or is being committed.
Stated more plainly, the stop may only be to investigate the circumstances that caused the officer to make the stop in the first place.
Under Florida law, the detention may only be for a brief time. Although the law does not specify a particular time, courts have found that it should only be as long as “reasonably necessary.” If the stop goes beyond what is reasonable, the stop is not likely to be favored by the court.
Law Enforcement Rights In A Stop And Frisk
Upon stopping and frisking an individual, a law enforcement officer has a choice to make. If, after the brief investigation, the officer cannot establish probable cause, the officer must release the individual. However, if the officer does identify probable cause that he or she was or is involved in crime, the officer may then effect a custodial arrest.
The second situation in which the officer has a right to frisk an individual is for officer safety. If the officer has probable cause to believe that the individual has dangerous weapons on him or her, the officer may conduct a limited search for the safety of himself and for those around him. Such a search is a highly limited search, such as a pat-down search. It does not allow for a more thorough search of the individual’s clothing or person.