Florida Police Can’t Take You Into Custody Just Because You Behave Unusually or Because the Officer Thinks It ‘Would Be Best’

social-image-logo-og-300x300We all have certain fundamental constitutional rights in Florida. From time to time, law enforcement officers overstep their authority and infringe on those rights. Sometimes, they do it for well-meaning reasons… other times, not so much. Either way, officers are not allowed to do certain things, like taking law-abiding citizens into custody just because they think that is the best thing for all involved. And the state is not allowed to convict you of resisting an officer without violence if the arrest the officer sought to make was not a legal one. If you’ve been the subject of an illegal arrest, or wrongfully been taken into involuntary custody, don’t wait to protect yourself. Contact an experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney right away.

L.L. was a woman in Lee County who found herself in that kind of trouble. Her case began with a concerned citizen’s call to EMS reporting “a woman lying in the grass on the side of the road.” Two EMTs found L.L. in the grass. She was responsive and cooperative. She explained that she was trying to find a house, had failed to find it and had decided instead to lie down in the grass and smoke a cigarette.

Is it what most of us would do in that situation? Probably not. However, responding to a situation in an unusual way is not necessarily illegal, and it is not automatically a valid basis for police to take you into custody. Yet, that’s what happened to L.L.

At this point, it is probably helpful to look at some of the ways the police can take you into custody in Florida even if you have committed no crime. One is the Baker Act, which relates to mental health issues. Generally, a Baker Act detention involves someone who has expressed a desire to harm themselves or others. In L.L.’s case, she did not express any suicidal thoughts or a desire to harm herself, so a Baker Act commitment wasn’t an option.

Another tool at law enforcement officers’ disposal in Florida is the Marchman Act. A law enforcement officer may take a person into custody under the Marchman Act if the person is intoxicated and, because of that impairment, has lost self-control to the extent that she is at risk of harming herself or others, or has lost self-control to the point that she can no longer appreciate her need for substance abuse services.

In L.L.’s case, the EMTs had finished checking on her and had cleared her. They had offered to take her to the hospital, but she had declined. After that, a deputy approached L.L. The woman was not slurring her words or acting in a way that was blatantly consistent with extreme intoxication. Nevertheless, the officer, thinking it was best for L.L.’s well-being (as well as best for the officer’s career,) decided to take L.L. into custody under the Marchman Act. L.L. asked if she was under arrest. The officer said no, and L.L. allegedly responded with “I am out of here. See you later, ladies.” After that, a physical altercation between the deputy and L.L. ensued, and the entire incident ended up with L.L. getting charged with resisting an officer without violence.

Resisting without violence requires a valid basis to arrest you

Here’s another tip that L.L.’s case is very helpful in illustrating, and was the key to her successful appeal: you cannot be convicted of resisting an officer without violence if the officer did not have a valid basis to arrest you in the first place. In L.L.’s circumstance, there was no evidence that L.L. was out of control with respect to substance use. The mere fact that an officer thinks a person poses a danger because they act in an unconventional or eccentric manner is not enough to take that person into custody. There must be actual facts, not just an officer’s speculation.

In this woman’s case, the facts demonstrated that she had broken no law, adequately explained her presence in the grass, was responsive and articulate in speaking to the EMTs and the deputy, and had been “checked and cleared multiple times” by the EMTs. Those facts are not enough to detain a law-abiding citizen. Therefore, L.L. was within her legal rights to resist without violence and was entitled to a judgment of acquittal.

There are many different ways in which you can find yourself under arrest or otherwise in police custody based on alleged disorderly conduct or another offense even though you’ve done nothing wrong. If that happens to you, make sure you reach out without delay to the experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten, P.A. Our attorneys have been helping people in Florida for many years to protect their rights. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

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