Recently the 5th District Court of Appeal held that a passenger of a vehicle is lawfully seized and not free to leave a traffic stop. Therefore, if evidence of a crime is found, it can be used against the passenger. A large amount of drug possession cases and other criminal cases start with a traffic stop and subsequent search of passengers.
Several appellate courts in Florida have held that a passenger of a lawfully stopped vehicle is free to go about their business or stay with the vehicle. In other words the passenger could walk away; the cops could not stop them and if law enforcement did stop the passenger from leaving that seizure was unconstitutional. Evidence gained from an unlawful seizure and following search is typically thrown out of court by a motion to suppress.
However, more recent United States Supreme Court opinions caused the 5th District to hold that an officer has the right to detain everybody in a stopped car. The 5th District relied on language from the US Supreme Court that a passenger is seized, that a passenger may challenge the constitutionality of the stop and that any reasonable passenger would understand that no one in the car is free to depart without permission from the police. Therefore, the 5th announced that the situation is best addressed by a blanket rule that allows the officer to always exercise command of the scene during a traffic stop including contorl of the passengers.
Now there is a conflict in Florida, we can assume that the Florida Supreme Court will resolve the conflict sooner rather than later given the tremendous volume of traffic stops. If you live in the counties covered by the 5th District, then a passenger can be lawfully detained by an officer at a traffic stop. Presumably, prosecutors in the other circuits and counties will be using this new law to try and overturn the law in their districts.
The circuits and counties covered by the 5th District are the Fifth Circuit: Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, and Sumter; the Seventh Circuit: Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia Counties; the Ninth Circuit: Orange and Osceola; and the Eighteenth Circuit: Brevard and Seminole.
Knowing that the law causes confusion like this should motivate you to click, call or fill out the form for a consultation in any criminal case in any county mentioned here or any other county in Florida.
5th District case