24 So.3d 1181 (Fla. 2009), SC08-1898, C.E.L. v. State

Docket Nº:SC08-1898.
Citation:24 So.3d 1181, 34 Fla. L. Weekly S 663
Opinion Judge:PER CURIAM.
Party Name:C.E.L., Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
Attorney:James Marion Moorman, Public Defender, and Matthew D. Bernstein, Assistant Public Defender, Tenth Judicial Circuit, Bartow, FL, for Petitioner. Bill McCollum, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, Robert J. Krauss, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Diana K. Bock and Jonathan P. Hurley, Assistan...
Judge Panel:PARIENTE, LEWIS, POLSTON, LABARGA, and PERRY, JJ., concur. PARIENTE, J., specially concurs with an opinion, in which LABARGA and PERRY, JJ., concur. QUINCE, C.J., dissents with an opinion. CANADY, J., recused. PARIENTE, J., specially concurring. LABARGA and PERRY, JJ., concur. QUINCE, C.J., disse...
Case Date:December 17, 2009
Court:Supreme Court of Florida
 
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Page 1181

24 So.3d 1181 (Fla. 2009)

34 Fla. L. Weekly S 663

C.E.L., Petitioner,

v.

STATE of Florida, Respondent.

No. SC08-1898.

Supreme Court of Florida.

December 17, 2009

Page 1182

James Marion Moorman, Public Defender, and Matthew D. Bernstein, Assistant Public Defender, Tenth Judicial Circuit, Bartow, FL, for Petitioner.

Bill McCollum, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, Robert J. Krauss, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Diana K. Bock and Jonathan P. Hurley, Assistant Attorneys General, Tampa, FL, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM.

C.E.L. seeks review of the decision of the Second District Court of Appeal in C.E.L. v. State, 995 So.2d 558 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008), on the ground that it expressly and directly conflicts with the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal in D.T.B. v. State, 892 So.2d 522 (Fla. 3d DCA 2004). We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const. The issue presented in this case is whether a juvenile's continued flight, within a high-crime area, in defiance of a police officer's verbal order to stop, constitutes the offense of resisting, obstructing, or opposing an officer without violence under section 843.02, Florida Statutes (2007). We conclude, based on the plain language of section 843.02, that the interpretation provided by the Second District's en banc opinion resolves the statutory question. This Court is obligated to apply the law as written by the Legislature and to follow the Fourth Amendment precedent laid out by the United States Supreme Court, 1 even if we question the wisdom of that precedent or the public policy behind the law.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

C.E.L., a fifteen-year-old African-American male, was convicted of resisting a law enforcement officer without violence under section 843.02 after he ran from two approaching

Page 1183

officers in a high-crime area and then failed to obey their verbal command to stop. At the time the police officers approached, C.E.L. was simply " standing ... in the public area of an apartment complex." C.E.L., 995 So.2d at 563 (Altenbernd, J., concurring).2 Patrolling the complex in response to a prior complaint regarding drugs and trespassing, the two officers first noticed C.E.L. standing with another teenaged companion and approached them. Upon seeing the officers, each wearing vests emblazoned with " Sheriff" over their plain clothes, C.E.L. " immediately turned around and took flight." Id. at 559 (majority opinion). The officers then ordered C.E.L. to stop, but he disregarded the order and continued to run. Although C.E.L. resisted the officers' verbal command, he was ultimately apprehended and arrested for obstruction pursuant to section 843.02.3 At the adjudicatory hearing on the obstruction charge, C.E.L. moved for a judgment of dismissal on the ground that the State's evidence was insufficient, asserting that running, by itself, was not enough to support a charge of obstructing or opposing an officer. The circuit court denied the motion, found C.E.L. guilty of the offense, and adjudicated him delinquent.

On appeal to the Second District, C.E.L. argued that the circuit court's denial of his motion for judgment of dismissal was erroneous because he did not commit the crime of resisting without violence. Specifically, C.E.L. alleged that because the two officers lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him before he took flight, any action he took after flight could not constitute the offense of resisting without violence. The Second District agreed that the officers did not initially possess reasonable suspicion to detain C.E.L. before his initial flight from them. C.E.L., 995 So.2d at 562. However, relying on Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124, 120 S.Ct. 673, 145 L.Ed.2d 570 (2000),4 the district court concluded, in an en banc opinion, that C.E.L.'s " unprovoked flight" from the officers in a " high-crime area" provided reasonable suspicion and that C.E.L.'s continued flight, in defiance of a lawful police order to stop, constituted sufficient facts upon which to base a conviction for the violation of resisting an officer without violence. The Second District explained that it had " previously recognized that flight in knowing defiance of a law enforcement officer's lawful order to stop constitutes an act of resisting, obstructing, or opposing an officer in the lawful execution of a legal duty." C.E.L., 995 So.2d at 561. The district court concluded that the evidence against C.E.L. was sufficient to sustain a conviction because " the police command to stop was issued in the lawful performance of a legal duty and C.E.L's knowing defiance of the command [ after he took flight] was an act of resisting, obstructing, or opposing an officer." C.E.L., 995 So.2d at 562.

The Third District in D.T.B. reached the opposite conclusion under similar facts.

Page 1184

There, the district court concluded that reasonable suspicion to detain an individual must arise before the flight begins in order for the flight to constitute the offense of resisting an officer without violence.

ANALYSIS

In resolving the conflict issue presented, we emphasize that C.E.L. does not contest the fact that his actions constituted " unprovoked flight" under Wardlow or the State's position that the apartment complex was known for drug activity in a " high-crime area." Further, there has been no suggestion that the officers' order to stop was unlawful or that C.E.L. did not act in knowing defiance of that order. In fact, he has conceded before this Court that " flight provided the deputies with reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop." Essentially, C.E.L. argues that the sole act of flight cannot be used as the basis for reasonable suspicion necessary to support a conviction for resisting arrest and that whether C.E.L. unlawfully resisted the police officers' order must be evaluated from the point at which he commenced running, before any lawful command to stop occurred. Thus, the issue in this case is whether there should be a specific rule of law interpreting section 843.02 to require that reasonable suspicion of criminal activity exist before an individual flees.

Applying the United States Supreme Court precedent in Wardlow and adhering to the plain language of section 843.02, we conclude that the plain language of section 843.02 does not support the distinction set forth by the Third District in D.T.B. that would require reasonable suspicion to arise before the flight begins. In reaching this conclusion, we first explain the reasoning of Wardlow and the elements of section 843.02. Next, we explore the divergent conclusions reached by the Second District in the instant case and the Third District in D.T.B. Finally, we explain why we are compelled to approve the reasoning of the Second District.

A. Wardlow

Because Wardlow changed the legal landscape for establishing reasonable suspicion, we begin with an analysis of the United States Supreme Court's decision. In Wardlow, the Supreme Court held that an individual's unprovoked, " headlong" flight from the police in a high-crime area can create sufficient reasonable suspicion to warrant an investigative Terry 5 stop. Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 124-25, 120 S.Ct. 673. The defendant in Wardlow fled immediately upon seeing a four-car caravan of police officers arrive in an area of Chicago known for heavy narcotics trafficking. Id. at 121, 120 S.Ct. 673. After observing the defendant holding an opaque bag, police officers pursued the defendant, stopped him, and then proceeded to search him for weapons. Id. at 122, 120 S.Ct. 673. When the search revealed that the defendant was carrying a handgun and five live rounds of ammunition, officers arrested him for violating an Illinois firearm statute for which he was subsequently convicted. Id. at 122, 126, 120 S.Ct. 673.

The defendant then challenged his conviction on the ground that the police lacked reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify an investigative stop pursuant to Terry. Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 124, 120 S.Ct. 673. In upholding his conviction, the Supreme Court explained that although

Page 1185

" [a]n individual's presence in an area of expected criminal activity, standing alone, is not enough to support [an investigatory stop,]" that factor, in addition to the defendant's unprovoked, " [h]eadlong flight" upon noticing the police provided reasonable suspicion that the defendant was involved in criminal activity, and further investigation under Terry was justified. Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 124-25, 120 S.Ct. 673.

In elaborating on the defendant's actions, the Court emphasized that its decision was consistent with its prior decision in Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983), holding that " when an officer, without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, approaches an individual, the individual has a right to ignore the police and go about his business." Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 125, 120 S.Ct. 673 (citing Royer, 460 U.S. at 498, 103 S.Ct. 1319). Moreover, any " refusal to cooperate, without more, does not furnish the minimal level of objective justification needed for a detention or seizure." Id. (quoting Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 437, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991)). However, the Supreme Court viewed an individual's actions in fleeing from a police officer as " not a mere refusal to cooperate" or " going about one's business" but " just the opposite." Id.

In reaching the conclusion that flight from a police officer was more than a refusal to cooperate, the Court analogized to cases where it had recognized " nervous, evasive behavior" as a " pertinent factor in determining reasonable suspicion." Id. at 124, 120 S.Ct. 673. It then observed that " [h]eadlong flight-wherever it occurs-is the consummate act of evasion: It is not necessarily indicative of wrongdoing, but it is certainly suggestive of such." Id. Relying on these two concepts...

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