Third DCA says Officer Had No Lawful Basis to Conduct Traffic Stop

For those of us comprising the local defense bar here in Miami, it is all but routine for us, in cases in which our client’s are accused of Resisting Without Violence, Fla. Stat. § 843.02, to argue to judges and prosecutors alike that the arresting officer(s) were not executing a “lawful, legal duty” at the pertinent times.

Despite an abundance of pretty favorable caselaw on this issue, we’re not always successful. Because these arguments often occur in the midst of trial during a motion for judgment of acquittal, sometimes, those failures to persuade result in a convictions for our clients. Only then can they hope that, on appeal, their convictions will be reversed; a hope that, as a matter of course, we all know is exceedingly unlikely–no matter the merits.

But last week such a reversal of fortunes did happen–and it happened in the Third District Court of Appeal. The factual circumstances underlying the case seem to arise with some regularity in Miami’s Criminal County Courts, so this decision is one worth reading. The legal ruling has implications much larger than Resisting Without Violence cases, as it addresses officers who are familiar with our clients from prior “interactions” and whether their knowledge can become “stale” so as to render some seizures invalid. (This directly applies in almost all No Valid Driver’s License and Driving While License Suspended cases, too!).

In W.B. v. State, No. 3D15-772, a police officer, very familiar with the juvenile defendant, noticed him operating a motorized scooter at night without wearing protective eyewear (and believed W.B. to be younger than 16 and having a suspended driver’s license). When the officer tried to conduct a traffic stop, W.B. jumped off the scooter and fled on foot–eventually being apprehended at a nearby intersection.

At trial, after the State rested, W.D. moved for a judgment of dismissal (the juvenile procedural equivalent of a judgment of acquittal in adult criminal trials) arguing that the officer was not executing a lawful, legal duty when he tried to stop him because he had no reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop. That argument failed to persuade the trial court judge (who, for those of you unfamiliar, sits as both the trier of fact and law, or, stated another way, operates as both “judge and jury” in juvenile cases because juveniles are not constitutionally guaranteed a right to a jury trial–a subject for another day).

On appeal, the State argued, first, that based on the officer’s prior knowledge of W.B. he reasonably believed that W.B. was not yet old enough to operate a motorized scooter (i.e. that he was not yet 16 years old); and second, that the stop was justified because W.B. was not wearing protective eyewear, as required by Fla. Stat. § 316.211(2).

As to the first argument, the Third DCA held that, despite several “interactions” with W.B. over the past few years, including one only weeks before the date of the arrest in question, the officer’s “general impressions” that W.B. was not 16 years old and had a suspended license were both “stale” and could not be used to formulate reasonable suspicion for a stop. The last time that officer ran W.B.’s license must have been nearly 9 months prior (because W.B. was, in fact, 16 years and 9 months old)–too long a span, the court held, to have any continued pertinence.

As to the second argument, the Third DCA noted that one of the exceptions to the eyewear requirement is for operators who are at least 16 years old and whose vehicle is powered by motors smaller than 50CC or not in excess of 2Hp and, because the state failed to adduce any evidence that the scooter W.B. was riding was not covered by those exceptions, it failed to meet its evidentiary burden and dismissal was the appropriate remedy.

Lastly, in footnote 2, the Court commented that “the State properly conceded that it could not rely on the ‘good faith’ exception to the exclusionary rule to justify the stop.”

Keep this case handy moving forward–especially for those of you who regularly defend NVDL or DWLS cases, in addition to RWOV cases. (Kudos to Assistant Public Defender Natasha Baker-Bradley on this impressive win).

This blog post was authored by top Miami criminal defense attorney, Jordan Redavid. Its contents should not be construed as legal advice. However, should you or a loved one be in need of the advice of one of the best criminal defense lawyers in Miami, call Jordan Redavid at any time, 24/7, to discuss your case. 305-938-9939.

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