State v. Stevens

Decision Date07 February 1978
Docket NumberNo. 76-2263,76-2263
Citation354 So.2d 1244
PartiesSTATE of Florida, Appellant, v. Jackie STEVENS, a/k/a Jackie Stephens, Bruce Wayne Mathews, a/k/a Bruce Wayne Matthews, and Curley Anderson, Appellees.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Robert L. Shevin, Atty. Gen., Tallahassee and Marsha G. Madorsky and Joy B. Shearer, Asst. Attys. Gen., West Palm Beach, for appellant.

Richard L. Jorandby, Public Defender, and Henry Prettyman and Joseph S. Karp, Asst. Public Defenders, West Palm Beach, for appellees.

ALDERMAN, Chief Judge.

This appeal stems from an order of the trial court granting the motion of the defendants to suppress tangible evidence. At issue is the authority of a police officer under the Florida Stop and Frisk Law to stop a motor vehicle and detain its occupants, to arrest the occupants after a brief investigation, and to seize evidence which was in plain view. We reverse.

The evidence came into the hands of law enforcement authorities in the following manner: Officer Ludwig of the St. Cloud police department was on routine patrol on a rainy Sunday night. At about eleven o'clock he saw a pickup truck pulling away from the vicinity of a city supply and equipment yard. He first observed the truck on a dirt road which skirted the enclosure. The patrol car's spotlight showed a set of fresh tire tracks leading from the direction of the supply yard's gateway and continuing along the route taken by the truck. There were no other vehicles in the vicinity, and Officer Ludwig testified that it was unusual to see a truck there at that hour of the night. Furthermore, he knew that wire had been stolen from the same yard on a weekend about a month before.

He followed the truck. Its tailgate was down, and in the illumination of his own headlights the policeman could see coils of wire laid haphazardly in the bed of the truck, partially covered by a piece of cloth. The officer was struck by the fact that the vehicle was weighted down so heavily in the rear that its front end was sticking up in the air at a peculiar angle.

Officer Ludwig stopped the truck after following it a short distance and found the three defendants in the cab. He asked the driver for identification and detained the three men while waiting for a backup unit to arrive. Without touching the cloth which partially covered the truck's load, the officer could see coils of copper wire, wet and muddy, much of it with its insulation burned off. Ludwig subsequently moved the cloth so that he could judge the full quantity of the wire.

Officer Ernst arrived in his patrol car as backup unit within ten or fifteen minutes of the stopping of the truck. The defendants, one of whom was barefoot, and all of whom were rainsoaked and sandy, were locked in the back seat of Officer Ernst's patrol car while Officer Ludwig drove to the gateway of the city yard to make a quick inspection. The three suspects were not told that they were under arrest until Officer Ludwig told Officer Ernest by radio that he had found many signs suggesting their involvement in theft of wire from city property. Tire tracks, still fresh despite the rain, showed that a vehicle had been backed up to the entrance. There were recent footprints on both sides of the fence, and through a gap in the loosely chained gates. The ground bore imprints made by wire coils. In addition, Officer Ludwig found a pair of tennis shoes which he took back with him to Officer Ernst's waiting patrol car, where the barefoot suspect admitted that they belonged to him.

The trial court's order granting the motion of the defendants to suppress tangible evidence contained the following language:

. . . (W)hen Officer Ludwig . . . stopped the vehicle driven by one of the defendants he had not observed the vehicle violating any traffic regulations and did not have probable cause to believe the defendants, or either of them, had committed a felony. To quote the officer he stopped the vehicle "for suspicion of theft" . . . . (T)he officer . . . was without probable cause to stop the defendants and place them under arrest and could not detain the defendants until he found probable cause after an extensive investigation.

We disagree with the court's reasoning.

The right of law enforcement officers to stop and temporarily detainindividuals under certain circumstances is specifically granted by the Florida Stop and Frisk Law, Section 901.151, Florida Statutes (1976). 1 In evaluating Officer Ludwig's reasons for stopping the pickup truck, the trial court applied too rigorous a standard. State v. Bastardo,347 So.2d 463 (Fla.2d DCA 1977). Circumstances can "reasonably indicate" that a person "has committed, is committing, or is about to commit" a violation of criminal laws or ordinances without necessarily indicating that high probability of guilt which is implied by the term "probable cause." State v. Payton, 344 So.2d 648 (Fla.2d DCA 1977). To justify temporary detention, only "founded suspicion" in the mind of the detaining officer is required. Lewis v. State, 337 So.2d 1031 (Fla.2d DCA 1976); State v. Othen, 300 So.2d 732 (Fla.2d DCA 1974); State v. Ebert, 251 So.2d 38 (Fla.2d DCA 1971). A "founded suspicion" is a suspicion which has some factual foundation in the circumstances observed by the officer, when those circumstances are interpreted in the light of the officer's knowledge. "Mere" or "bare" suspicion, on the other hand, cannot support detention. Coleman v. State,333 So.2d 503 (Fla. 4th DCA 1976). Mere suspicion is no better than random selection, sheer guesswork, or hunch, and has no objective justification. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968), and Thomas v. State, 250 So.2d...

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