Your Being at the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time Around the Wrong People Doesn’t Give the Police in Florida the Right to Do a Warrantless Search of Your Person

For many of us, Mom warned of the dangers of hanging around the “wrong crowd.” While associating with people with “checkered” pasts may have the potential to impact you negatively in some ways, simply being around people with legal issues is not, by itself, usually against the law. If you’ve found yourself arrested and charged based largely upon your having been at the wrong place at the wrong time around the wrong people, you need quality legal representation. You need an experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney working for you to get the acquittal or dismissal that you deserve.

D.T.’s case was an example of a man in that kind of situation. Here’s what happened: Polk County detectives, one June morning, approached a Lakeland house that, they believed, contained the suspect in a Walmart robbery from the night before.

Eventually, everyone exited the house and one detective did a “pat-down” search of each occupant. The detective found a gun in D.T.’s pants. Because D.T. had a criminal past, the state charged him with possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. For a person in a position like D.T., this was more than a minor crime. A conviction could mean D.T. doing anywhere from three years to 15 years in prison.

As a convicted felon, you lose certain rights, such as the right to possess a gun. You do not, however, lose your right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. That is what happened to D.T. Florida law says that the police can only perform a pat-down search if “the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the defendant is armed and dangerous.”

No reasonable suspicion meant no right to a warrantless search

In D.T.’s case, the evidence didn’t support a reasonable supposition that the accused man was armed and dangerous. First off, the perpetrator in the Walmart robbery was not reported to have used a weapon. Even if a gun had been used in that robbery, the detectives knew D.T. wasn’t the robber. One man tried to escape from a window in the home when the detectives approached, but the detectives already knew that that man wasn’t D.T., either. In fact, the detectives “had no information that [D.T.] had… been involved in the robbery or in any other criminal activity.”

There are other circumstances when the police can reasonably fear for their safety and, in those situations, they can still perform pat-down searches without violating the Fourth Amendment. Those scenarios, however, typically involves factors like the defendant’s having been uncooperative, having made furtive movements around his pockets or the waistband of his pants, or having what the court called “the ubiquitous ‘bulge’.” None of those things were true about D.T.

Note that all of those scenarios involve specific factual details triggering an officer’s reasonable fear for his/her safety. The Second District appeals court has made it very clear that generalized concerns by officers about their safety are not sufficient to give officers the right to do a warrantless pat-down search.

As the court summed it up, D.T. “was patted down simply because he was, at that moment, in the same house as someone who had committed a robbery in a different town some twelve hours earlier.” Those facts weren’t proper justification for the detectives’ doing a warrantless pat-down search, so the search was illegal, and evidence of the gun was inadmissible against D.T., meaning that he was entitled to a dismissal of the charge.

If you find yourself facing gun crime or other criminal charges because you were at the wrong place at the wrong time, you need the right attorney to get you the justice you deserve. Count on the experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. Our attorneys have been helping people accused of crimes in Florida for many years to protect their rights throughout the criminal process. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

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