Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Georgina Jimenez-Orosa, Senior Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellant.
Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Emily Ross-Booker, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellee.
The issue presented in this case is whether a law enforcement officer's use of appellee's name and date of birth for a warrants check turns a consensual encounter into an encounter requiring reasonable suspicion. We find that the mere act of running appellee's name for an active warrants check does not require reasonable suspicion. Therefore, we find that the trial court erred, reverse the granting of the motion to suppress, and remand for findings of fact.
On March 14, 2009, two law enforcement officers were on patrol in response to complaints of narcotics and other criminal conduct in the Fort Lauderdale area at 1:00 a.m. While the officers were conducting a check on a twenty-four hour market, the officers observed appellee standing on the side of the business. No one else was around the area at that time. The officer parked his patrol car across the street and approached appellee on foot. The officer did not activate the overhead lights of his patrol car or draw his weapon. At the evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress, the officer testified that appellee was free to go wherever he wanted.
The officer asked appellee for his name and date of birth. Appellee responded by giving his name and date of birth. At that point, appellee's information was run over a teletype to check for active warrants. After discovering that there was an active warrant, the officers placed appellee under arrest and read him his Miranda rights.
After appellee was placed under arrest for the active warrant, the officer patted appellee down and found approximately fifteen grams of marijuana in thirteen baggies in his left front pocket. The officers placed him in the back of their vehicle and Mirandized him again. On the way to jail, appellee made a statement to the officer, which the officer characterized as a " spontaneous utterance," that the " weed wasn't his," that he " was carrying" the marijuana for someone else, and that " he can't go down" for the marijuana.
Appellee's testimony at the suppression hearing largely contradicted the officers' testimony. Appellee claimed that he had entered his car and that the officers blocked his car and placed a spotlight on him. Appellee did not feel free to go. The officers asked for his driver's license, but he did not have a license, so he gave them his identification card. They asked him to step out of his car and then searched him.
Despite this conflict in the evidence, the trial court found the testimony of both the officer and appellee to be " believable." The trial court further found when both officers approached appellee,
I think that up until that point it was consensual encounter and everything was fine. The problem is that up until that point there was no reasonable suspicion, and that should have been the end of it. But instead, your client was detained, they checked him for warrants, and a warrant was found.
The trial court granted the motion to suppress, finding that the officers needed reasonable suspicion in order to run a warrants check on appellee. The trial court concluded, " The officers had to go and do a warrant check on him. So accordingly the motion to suppress will be granted." This appeal ensues.
The appellate court must interpret the evidence and reasonable inferences in a manner most favorable to sustaining the trial court's ruling. San Martin v. State, 717 So.2d 462, 469 (Fla.1998). A presumption
of correctness is granted to a trial court's determinations of facts, and the appellate court independently reviews mixed questions of law and fact regarding constitutional issues. Ca ...