As a passenger in a motor vehicle, you often times don’t concern yourself with the potential of a traffic stop. After all, if a police officer pulls over the car you are traveling in for speeding, this would have nothing to do with you, so there is no fear of being arrested. But what if you decide to exit the car and walk to your destination which is now in sight, you should be able to do so, right?

A new Florida court ruling seeks to undo the well-established rule that a police officer does not have the authority to detain a passenger because the driver committed a minor traffic offense.

The Passenger Who Was Arrested in Florida

Earlier this year Edwin Aguiar was a passenger in a car that was pulled over for two traffic infractions. Aguiar in the exercise of his constitutional right decided to leave the car during the stop but was ordered to stay in the car by the police officer. In addition to carrying out his duties relating to the purpose of the traffic stop, the police officer also found cocaine in the possession of Aguiar and he was arrested and charged.

The 1999 Florida Court of Appeal ruling which established the principle that a police officer had no authority to detain an innocent passenger did not save Aguiar from conviction. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeal in a unanimous decision overruled the 1999 case citing that the safety of the police officer was the most important factor in a traffic stop. Accordingly, a law enforcement officer was now within his or her lawful authority to detain a passenger who was not the subject of a traffic stop

What Does This Ruling Mean for Passengers?

This new ruling by the Court of Appeal will now go to the Florida’s Supreme Court for determination. The outcome can significantly change the law as it relates to the rights of a passenger in a car.

The Court of Appeal in setting out their decision indicated that any intrusion on the constitutional rights of freedom on a passenger who is not the subject of the traffic stop is minimal compared to the safety of the police officer. Further, the court maintained that a passenger in a traffic stop should not leave the vehicle since there is no way for him or her to know the reason for the police’s suspicion; which could also be in relation to the passenger.

There is no doubt that this new decision has serious implications. Surely, constitutional rights defenders will take issues with it while others will find favor with the new ruling as it seeks to catch “bad guys” who may be posing as passengers.

What Should I do If I am a Passenger in a Car and Get Arrested?

This decision by the Court of Appeal is now the law unless the Florida Supreme Court comes to a different opinion. Nevertheless, it does not give the police the license to act in wanton disregard for the rights of an innocent passenger. If as a passenger in a traffic stop, you are charged and arrested for an offense unrelated to the purpose of the traffic violation, you will need a criminal defense lawyer.

At Erika Valcarcel, Criminal Defense Lawyer, P.A., we possess years of experience in defending the rights of individuals facing the Florida criminal courts. Our Sarasota criminal defense lawyers will help you beat your charges, secure your freedom, and restore your good name. Call us today at (941) 363-7900 and let us be your Florida criminal defense attorney of choice.

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