What Is Considered “Prowling” Under Florida Law?
The police cannot, generally speaking, arrest you for simply “looking suspicious.” That said, there are fairly broad statutes in Florida governing misdemeanor offenses like “prowling” or “loitering,” which can be used to justify an arrest even absent more concrete evidence of some other criminal activity.
Florida’s prowling statute (Section 856.021) states:
It is unlawful for any person to loiter or prowl in a place, at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals, under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity.
The statute goes on to list a number of circumstances that may be considered in determining whether an “alarm” or “immediate concern” is justified, which includes:
- The suspect “takes flight” when a law enforcement officer appears.
- The suspect refuses to identify themselves to law enforcement.
- The suspect intentionally tries to conceal themselves or any object.
- The suspect declines to “dispel an alarm or immediate concern” when asked to by a member of law enforcement who has properly identified themselves as such.
Suspicion of Prowling Led to Florida Man’s Mail Theft Conviction
On its own, prowling or loitering is a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida. This is the lowest level of criminal offense under Florida law. A conviction carries a maximum jail term of 60 days and a fine of $500.
Given the relatively low stakes, Florida prosecutors rarely prosecute prowling as a standalone offense. But prowling or loitering may be used to justify a prosecution of more serious offenses. Consider this recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Altieri. This case began early one morning around 1:30 a.m. A Florida police officer observed a car parked near a local college. The officer later testified he saw two men–including the defendant–exit the car wearing all black, masks, and gloves and carrying a plastic garbage bag.
The officer said the men were running and carrying the bag towards a nearby warehouse. At that point, the officer intercepted the men and identified himself as law enforcement. The defendant and his partner immediately stopped. The driver of the car fled the scene. The officer then handcuffed the defendant and took him into custody. A subsequent search revealed the garbage bag contained unopened mail and the defendant had a U.S. Postal Service key.
A federal grand jury subsequently indicted the defendant for possession of a postal service key and possession of stolen mail. Before the trial court, the defendant argued the police search was illegal since there was no probable cause to arrest him in the first place. Both the trial court, and later the 11th Circuit, disagreed, holding the officer had probable cause to believe the defendant violated Florida’s prowling statute.
Contact the Joshi Law Firm Today
If the police stop and question you for any reason, you do not have to answer. Instead, assert your right to remain silent. And if you are taken into custody, make sure you speak with a qualified Orlando criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Joshi law Firm, P.A., today to schedule a free consultation.