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Are Police Officers Allowed to Stop and Frisk Someone?

Florida's stop and frisk law provides that law enforcement officials can temporarily detain someone and search their person. However, it does not allow for them to do this on a whim or to just anybody. Provisions of the law state the specific circumstances when a stop can occur and when a frisk is warranted.

What Does Stop and Frisk Mean?

As the term suggests, when a police officer stops and frisks someone, it means that the officer has temporarily detained them and subsequently conducts a search of the individual.

To be stopped does not mean that the person has been or will be arrested. Instead, it is – or should be – a brief encounter that allows law enforcement officials to determine whether or not their suspicion that a crime has been committed or the individual is attempting to commit one is valid.

Generally, when an officer frisks someone, they pat down the individual to ascertain whether they have any weapons on them. A frisk should not entail an intrusive search of the individual's person or property.

What Does Florida's Stop and Frisk Law Allow?

Under Florida Statutes § 901.151, an officer may conduct a stop and frisk only under specified circumstances.

Specifically concerning temporary detention, the law provides an officer can do so when they have reasonable suspicion that a crime is being, has been, or is attempted to be committed.

The purpose of the stop should be merely to ascertain the identity of a person suspected of violating a law or ordinance and determine what they were doing that made the officer believe that an offense was or would have been committed.

When an officer conducts a stop and frisk, they must:

  • Ensure that the detention last only as long as is necessary to get the suspect's identity and determine whether a crime has or would have occurred; and
  • Not move the suspect beyond the location where the alleged offense happened -- unless the movement only involves going a short distance still in the vicinity of the alleged offense

Concerning the first point mentioned above, the officer cannot detain a person longer than is necessary to complete the tasks associated with the purpose of the stop. A prolonged stop may be considered unlawful.

If the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect has been involved in criminal activity, they can arrest them. Otherwise, the suspect should be released.

The officer can only frisk a detained suspect under the following circumstances:

  • They have probable cause to believe that the suspect is armed with a dangerous weapon, and
  • The suspect, so armed, poses a risk to the safety of the officer or others

The search should be non-intrusive – a pat-down – and only to the extent necessary to determine whether a weapon is present. If the officer finds a weapon upon the person, it may be seized.

Police officers must follow proper procedures during encounters with people believed to be involved in criminal activity. When they step beyond the bounds of their duty, they violate the constitutional rights of the person detained.

A criminal defense lawyer can determine whether the officer's actions during a stop and arrest were unlawful and file motions to suppress evidence arising from the encounter.

At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., our Miami team stands up for our clients and explores every legal avenue to protect their rights. For the legal representation you need, call us at (305) 330-1360 or contact us online today.