Hernandez v. State

FACTS:

At approximately 3:00 a.m. a police officer was notified from a dispatcher of possibly suspicious activity occurring in a parking lot of an apartment complex. Accordingly, the officer travelled to the parking lot shortly thereafter (one minute after dispatch). The officer then saw a white van parked in the lot with a separate red van backed up to it. Each vehicle had its rear doors open. As the officer proceeded to drive toward the vans, three individuals standing next to the vans walked away. The plaintiff, Tomas Hernandez, then attempted to close the van doors in vain and drive away. At the same time, the officer instructed the plaintiff to stop and requested identification. The officer then conducted a warrant check on the plaintiff and found that Hernandez was wanted for previously driving under the influence. Likewise, the plaintiff was taken into custody. Finally, the officer conducted a search of the van and discovered pry bars, tools, and two air-conditioning units that had been stolen from a home under construction. The plaintiff was convicted in trial court for burglary, possession of burglary tools, and grand theft auto.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

Case was previously tried in trial court, in which the court convicted the plaintiff, Tomas Hernandez, on charges of burglary, possession of burglary tools, and grand theft auto.

ISSUE:

Did the police offers lawfully conduct the investigatory stop of the plaintiff with reasonable suspicion of a crime having been committed?

RULE:

Whenever any law enforcement officer of this state [Florida] encounters any person under circumstances which reasonably indicate that such person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a violation of the criminal laws of this state or the criminal ordinances of any municipality or county, the officer may temporarily detain such person.

ANALYSIS:

First off, Judge Cope – per Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 330–31. (1990) – outlined the factors utilized by a law enforcement officer in their determination of reasonable suspicion. This includes: the time, day of the week, physical appearance of the suspect, suspect’s behavior, appearance and manner of vehicles involved, and, pertinently, the factor of flight. Under the totality of the circumstances described, the plaintiff failed to convey any signs of innocent behavior through his actions. Specifically, the factor of flight can not be the sole piece of evidence used by a police officer when determining reasonable suspicion [per Cobb v. State, 511 So.2d 698, 699 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987)]. The time of day, 3:00 a.m., dispatcher call, and behavior of the vans (open doors and parking arrangement in particular) combined with the alleged flight, however, did provide a reasonably basis for the officer’s suspicion and investigatory stop. Furthermore, the court held that drivers do not normally drive away with their rear doors open. Not to mention the fact that the aforementioned red van was observed to be protruding into a traffic area. Overall, the totality of the circumstances in this case support the notion that the investigatory stop was conducted with lawful, reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Therefore, all evidence discovered in the vans during the stop was lawfully taken by the officers and should prove admissible in court. 

CONCLUSION:

Ultimately, the court held that because of the totality of the circumstances, e.g. the location, attempted flight, physical appearance of the suspect, time and day of the week, behavior, and appearance/manner of vehicles involved, the police officers justifiably conducted the investigatory stop of the plaintiff under reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The incriminating evidence found in the plaintiff’s van was deemed to be lawfully discovered and admissible in court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the prior conviction of the plaintiff, Tomas Hernandez, for burglary, possession of burglary tools, and grand theft auto.

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