Florida Court Reverses Gun Crime Conviction Following Unreasonable Search

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution offers people protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. Broadly speaking, this means that law enforcement officials must have a warrant to conduct a search. Fourth Amendment protections are critical to safeguarding individual privacy and preventing government abuse of power. There are exceptions to the general rule, however, such as when an officer has reasonable suspicion that a person is committing a crime. Recently, a Florida court addressed what constitutes adequate suspicion of a crime to conduct a warrantless search in a case in which a juvenile appealed his firearms offense convictions. If you are a juvenile charged with a criminal offense, it is in your best interest to talk to a  Sarasota juvenile crime defense attorney about your rights.

The Stop and Arrest

It is reported that a police officer stopped the defendant because he was riding a bicycle at night without lights on. The defendant had a jacket over his left shoulder, and the officer believed that his nervousness and shakiness gave him the impression that there was possibly a weapon in his waistband.

Allegedly, the officer asked to conduct a pat down, and the defendant declined. The officer ultimately found a firearm in the defendant’s groin area. The defendant was charged with multiple firearm defenses. Prior to his hearing, he moved to suppress any evidence found during the stop on the grounds that the officer lacked the necessary suspicion to conduct a weapons pat down. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and the defendant was adjudicated delinquent. He appealed.

Reasonable Suspicion to Conduct a Weapons Pat Down

In reviewing the denial of the motion to suppress, the court determined whether competent and substantial evidence supported the trial court’s factual findings and reviewed the trial court’s application of the law to the facts. Ultimately, the court found that the issuance of a citation for failing to have a bicycle light would not ordinarily validate a weapons frisk. As such, the officer must have some information indicating that the detainee poses a threat to the officer’s safety or to the safety of others.

In other words, for a weapons pat-down search to be valid, the officer must identify objective facts indicating that the person detained is armed and dangerous. The court noted that while the combination of the defendant’s nervousness and the officer’s observation of a bulge in the defendant’s clothing could justify a weapons pat-down, the arresting officer’s testimony did not support a reasonable suspicion of danger in the subject case.

Specifically, the officer did not observe a weapon or see a bulge in the defendant’s pants. Additionally, the arresting officer had no idea whether the firearm had been in the defendant’s groin area the whole time. Thus, the court concluded that the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress, as the arresting officer lacked the necessary suspicion to conduct a weapons pat down, and reversed the trial court order.

Confer with a Skilled Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorney

A juvenile conviction for a weapons offense can negatively impact a person’s life long after the sentence imposed is complete. If you are a minor charged with a gun crime or any other offense, it is wise to confer with an attorney about your potential defenses as soon as possible. The skilled Sarasota criminal defense lawyers of Hanlon Law have ample experience helping minors protect their rights in juvenile proceedings, and if you hire us, we will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can contact Hanlon Law through the online form or by calling 941-462-1789 to set up a conference.

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