Florida Supreme Court Upholds Law Enforcement’s Authority to Remove Drivers for Drug Sweeps

Florida Supreme Court Upholds Law Enforcement's Authority to Remove Drivers for Drug Sweeps

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court said that police can tell a driver who has been pulled over to get out of the car so that a K-9 can check for drugs.

Thursday’s decision said this does not go against the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protect people from being searched or taken without a warrant.

A driver can be ordered out of the car after being legally pulled over for a violation. But Florida’s highest court had to decide if this rule applied to a K-9 officer who came in the middle of the stop to do a sweep.

In 2018, an undercover Tampa police officer saw Joshua Creller go around a red light by cutting through a gas station parking lot. This led to the question. After following Creller’s truck for a few blocks, the officer radioed a marked car with lights and sirens to start the traffic stop.

They asked Creller if they could search the truck, but he said no. That’s when a K-9 unit was called. The Supreme Court opinion says that when the K-9 cop asked Creller for permission to search the car, Creller said no again.

Being in charge of the truck, Creller was still told to get out for his own safety and the safety of the dog. Creller was taken away by force because he wouldn’t follow police orders. He was also charged with fighting an officer without violence when he wouldn’t get out of his car when a K-9 officer told him to.

Police searched the car and found methamphetamine. He was charged with a third-degree felony for having a controlled drug, according to court records in Hillsborough County.

The judge found Creller guilty of the charges and said that the drug-sniffing sweep did not violate his rights under the Fourth Amendment.

The Second District Court of Appeal said Creller was taken without a warrant because there was no reason for the K-9 to search the truck. This went against what the Fifth District Court of Appeal said in 2017.

In the end, 5-1 of the judges said that Creller’s rights were not abused, but Justice Jorge Labarga did not agree. He pointed to a 1997 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that said using a K-9 check after a stop without a good reason to do so was against the Fourth Amendment.

“Forcing a driver out of the car before probable cause of the presence of contraband has been established—and without any evidence that such seizure is necessary to ensure officer safety while they are giving out a traffic ticket—is an unreasonable seizure without any justification under the Fourth Amendment,” he wrote.

The opinion’s author, Justice Renatha Francis, said that case doesn’t apply because the traffic stop was still going on and no tickets were given out before the K-9 unit came.

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