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Court: Just Running from the Police is a Crime

FLORIDA SUPREME COURT - Simply running away from police in a high crime area is enough to land you in jail, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday in an opinion that even members of the majority found troubling and potentially discriminatory.

But asked to resolve a discrepancy between two appellate opinions, the state’s highest court, by a 5-1 vote, ruled that it was bound by state law and a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court precedent saying essentially that, even if adhering to both could result in the arrest of a person who had done nothing wrong.

The Florida Supreme Court was asked to resolve conflicting lower court rulings over whether the simple act of running away from police constitutes resisting arrest, a misdemeanor, in certain circumstances. The Second District Court of Appeal said yes. The Third District Court of Appeal came to the opposite conclusion, saying that if a suspect bolts – but officers didn’t have a legitimate reason to stop the person in the first place – then no new crime was committed.

But the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling in Illinois v. Wardlow said that simply running away from police in a high-crime area does constitute probable cause for an arrest. And Florida law clearly makes it an offense to resist arrests from officers engaged in legal duty. The Florida court’s majority said it was forced to conclude that in high crime areas, it has to be illegal to run from the police.

“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, even if we question the wisdom of that precedent or the public policy behind the law,” the majority said Thursday. “…Whether or not the (U.S.) Supreme Court … considered that one possible effect would be to further criminalize otherwise innocent behavior is not for us to decide.”

Four of six judges who ruled on the case asked the Legislature to step in and clarify the law.

But in a dissenting opinion, one justice went further, saying the ruling sets a clear double standard: Running away from police in a “nice neighborhood” is OK, but high-tailing it in a poor, crime ridden neighborhood is not.

“I cannot believe that we as a society have come to the point where we are willing to make criminals of people, especially our young people, based on where they live,” Justice Peggy Quince wrote in dissent.

Though concurring with the majority, Justice Barbara Pariente issued a separate opinion to which two other justices signed on. Citing studies that juveniles living in high crime areas are more likely to distrust police, Pariente said the ruling opens the door for abuse based solely on circumstances of residence.

“I strongly urge the Legislature to act to prevent the potential for disparate and unnecessary criminalization of otherwise innocent conduct that ultimately impacts those who live in high-crime areas differently than those who do not,” Pariente said.

The Florida case is C.E.L. v. State of Florida.

1 Responses »

  1. The author misstates the holding in Illinois v. Wardlow by writing "But the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling in Illinois v. Wardlow said that simply running away from police in a high-crime area does constitute probable cause for an arrest."

    The case simply held that the described circumstances constituted "reasonable suspicion" to conduct a brief investigatory inquiry, i.e., a "Terry stop." If probable cause to believe the person committed an arrestable offense is not developed during the brief stop, the suspect must be released.

    The difference between the law and what was reported in this article is highly significant and should be corrected before a law enforcement officer not remembering his training reads it and acts upon it to his detriment.