Search and seizure issues are often critical elements of Florida theft crime cases. The state’s First District Court of Appeal recently explained one way in which cops can use cell phone data and victim descriptions to track down criminal suspects. The court also said the police properly used the same information to establish the reasonable suspicion and probable cause necessary to justify pulling over a car, detaining its occupants, and searching its interior.
A defendant was charged with burglary, assault, and armed robbery following an incident in which he and two other people allegedly broke into a home and held the four people inside at gunpoint. The defendant claimed that he went to the house simply to reclaim some marijuana that he’d been shorted during a recent transaction. Prosecutors said the group took turns holding the people inside the home at gunpoint, while the others collected various valuables.
The police tracked down the defendant and the others by using the “find my phone” application on one of the iPhones stolen from the house. They put out a “be on the lookout” alert with the general location of the iPhone and a description of the three people who committed the crime. A cop patrolling the area pulled over Jackson’s car after seeing three people in it who matched the description. The officer removed all three people from the car and handcuffed them while she did a protective sweep of the car. She also checked the trunk, according to a police policy to look for people hiding in the trunk of any car stopped under suspicion of a felony. The officer found marijuana and a hand gun with an altered serial number.
Other officers brought the robbery victims to the scene, where they identified the defendant and the others as the perpetrators of the crime. The cops arrested the trio and searched the rest of the car, this time finding the iPhone and various other items that had been stolen from the home.
At trial, the judge said the cops didn’t have the authority to search the car’s trunk as part of the traffic stop. The judge said the cops did, however, have the right to detain the defendant and the others to be identified by the crime victims. The First District affirmed that decision on appeal.
“An officer may conduct an investigative stop when he or she has reasonable suspicion that the occupants have committed or are committing a crime,” the court explained. “An officer need not personally observe the events giving rise to reasonable suspicion, so long as facts are communicated to him by another officer or a reliable third party.”
In this case, the court said the officer who stopped the defendant’s car had a reasonable suspicion to do so, based on the description of the suspects and the tracking information from the stolen iPhone. It noted that the stop happened just 15 minutes after the crime occurred. Once the victims showed up and identified the defendant and the others, the cops not only had probable cause to arrest him but also to search the car for evidence of the crime, the court said.
As a result, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.
As this case shows, a number of complicated legal issues often come up in Florida criminal cases. If you or a loved one has been charged with burglary or a related crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater criminal defense attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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