Roderick B. Woods recently appealed an order, in Palm Beach, denying a motion to suppress and an order adjudicating him guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of drugs including ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana. After careful review, the Fourth District Court of Appeals (4th DCA) ruled against Woods and affirmed the trial court’s ruling on the motion to suppress and the order adjudicating him guilty.
While the testimony of the witnesses varied greatly, the trial court concluded that police came to Woods’ building after an anonymous tip was received concerning a homicide. In the course of their investigation, police knocked on Woods’ apartment door and asked the occupants to step outside so that they could ask them a few questions about the homicide.
Once outside, Woods asked if he could go back inside the apartment to put on a shirt from his bedroom. The officers agreed, but stated that they would have to come with him for officer safety. When the officers asked Woods if it was “ok” for them to follow him back to his room, Woods supposedly agreed – even though he knew he had a bag of marijuana and a bag of crack cocaine laying in plain sight.
On appeal, Woods argued that the contact with police became investigatory, thereby triggering his 4th Amendment rights, when the officers asked the occupants of the home to step outside for questioning. Ultimately, the 4th DCA ruled that this was not an investigatory stop and Woods’ Fourth Amendment rights were therefore not violated.
When a good criminal defense lawyer analyzes a case like this, the distinction between a “consensual encounter” and an “investigatory stop” can make all the difference. During a consensual encounter, “a person may voluntarily comply with the police officer’s request or choose to ignore them. Because a person is free to leave during a consensual encounter, Constitutional safeguards are not invoked.” Popple v. State, 626 So. 2d 185 (Fla. 1993).
However, during an investigatory stop, “a police officer may reasonably detain a citizen temporarily if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. In order not to violate a citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights, an investigatory stop requires a well founded, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Mere suspicion is not enough to support a stop.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968).
To determine whether the encounter between Woods and the police was consensual or investigatory, the appeals court considered the “totality of the circumstances” as was done by the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544 (1980).
When evaluating the totality of the circumstances, the appeals court relied heavily on the fact that “[T]he officers never acted in a threatening manner, never drew their weapons, and never raised their voices or ordered the residents to do anything against their will.”