Loitering or Prowling

Aug 04, 2015

In Florida, it is unlawful to act in an unusual or suspicious manner, causing a police officer to suspect that you are about to commit a crime. The facts of the case must reasonably create alarm and concern that the offender’s actions are an imminent threat to the public safety. The loitering or prowling statute is vague, so if you are arrested for loitering or prowling, an experienced defense attorney who understands the defenses to the crime can often get your case dismissed.

Florida’s Statute

Florida’s loitering or prowling statute states that it is unlawful to loiter or prowl in place, time, or manner that is unusual for law-abiding citizens, when the behavior occurs under circumstances that give reasonable cause for alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the area.

To determine whether a defendant’s actions caused alarm and immediate concern, courts examine several factors, including:

  • Whether the defendant fled at the approach of police
  • Whether the defendant tried to conceal him or herself or any object
  • Whether the defendant refused to identify him or herself

If any of these circumstances are true, it creates a rebuttable presumption that the police officer’s judgment of alarm or concern was justified.

Penalties

Loitering or prowling is a second degree misdemeanor in Florida. It is punishable by up to sixty days in jail, and a fine of up to $500.

Defenses

Since actions that constitute the criminal offense of loitering or prowling may be very similar to lawful behavior, there are many defenses to the crime.

Mere Idleness

Idleness and vagrancy are not criminal offenses in Florida, and police cannot detain citizens to explain their presence simply because of vague suspicions of unlawful behavior. There must be something more that creates a reasonable cause for alarm. Merely standing in a dark alleyway, for example, is not enough to justify an arrest.

No Imminent Threat

To constitute a crime, the defendant’s actions must have come close to the actual commission of a criminal offense. The prosecution must show that a breach of the peace was imminent. If it was not, the arrest was unlawful, and the defendant cannot be convicted.

Police Not Present

To be arrested for loitering or prowling, the offender must have committed both aspects of the offense in the presence of the arresting officer. An anonymous tip that a person is acting suspiciously is not sufficient evidence on which to arrest a suspect for loitering or prowling.

Incomplete Offense

A police officer cannot use after-the fact justifications to warrant an arrest for loitering or prowling. The officer cannot use the defendant’s actions after an arrest to justify a loitering charge. Neither can the officer use evidence gathered after an improper arrest.

No Opportunity to Explain

Unless the suspect flees or other circumstances make it impractical, an arresting officer must give a suspect the opportunity to identify and explain him or herself. The suspect must have a chance to allay the officer’s suspicions and alarm. If the suspect was not given the opportunity, or if the officer disregarded the suspect’s reasonable explanations, then the suspect cannot be convicted.

If you have been arrested for loitering or prowling, an experienced attorney can help you formulate your best defense, and work to get your charges dismissed. Please contact the dedicated West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for an initial consultation.