Can Florida Police Arrest Me Without a Warrant on Misdemeanor DUI Charges?
In general, a police officer in Florida cannot arrest a person for a misdemeanor offense without first obtaining a warrant. There is an exception for misdemeanors committed in the presence of an officer. An officer attending the scene of a “traffic crash” may also make a warrantless arrest if, based on their investigation, they have “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe the driver committed certain crimes under Florida law such as a DUI.
Florida Appeals Court: Truck Overturning in a Ditch Is a “Traffic Crash”
Does it matter if the crash involved multiple vehicles? Or can an officer make a warrantless arrest following a single-vehicle crash? A Florida appeals court recently addressed these questions and held such arrests are lawful.
In this case, State v. McCartha, a police officer in Tallahassee responded to a report of a traffic accident just after 1:15 in the morning. The officer found the defendant standing next to his pickup truck, which was overturned and lying in a ditch. There were no other vehicles involved but there was some damage to the roadway and the defendant’s truck.
The officer believed the defendant may have been drinking and driving. The officer read the defendant his rights. The defendant agreed to be questioned. During this questioning, the officer said he smelled alcohol on the defendant’s breath. The officer proceeded to administer a series of field sobriety tests. This led the officer to arrest the defendant on suspicion of DUI. Prosecutors later formally charged the defendant with DUI with a blood-alcohol content of over 0.15 percent.
Before the trial court, the defendant moved to suppress his arrest and all evidence obtained during the officer’s investigation. The defendant argued the officer lacked the authority to make a warrantless arrest for misdemeanor DUI since the mere fact the officer found the defendant’s truck lying in a ditch did not prove there was a “crash,” as required by Florida law.
The judge agreed with the defendant and granted the defendant’s motion to suppress. The prosecution appealed that decision. The Florida First District Court of Appeal subsequently reversed the trial court’s ruling and ordered the defendant to stand trial on the DUI charge.
The appellate court noted that according to undisputed testimony, there was some damage to the defendant’s truck, specifically a broken headlight. That was enough to classify what happened to the defendant’s vehicle as a “crash.” More to the point, when the defendant’s truck overturned, “it collided with the ditch and was damaged.” That collision made it a crash.
Contact the Joshi Law Firm Today
It is important to remember that you do not have to answer any police questions following a traffic accident. Even seemingly innocent questions are often an attempt to seek information that could be used to justify an arrest on DUI or other serious criminal charges. So your best course of action is to remain silent. And if you are charged with a crime and need legal advice from a qualified Orlando DUI attorney, contact the Joshi Law Firm, P.A., today to schedule a free consultation.