STATE OF FLORIDA v. J.H. County Court

Criminal law -- Driving under influence -- Search and seizure -- Detention was unlawful where deputy observed defendant drooling and slumped over steering wheel of vehicle parked in store parking lot with lights and turn signal on and engine running; deputy knocked on window with no response; thereafter deputy opened door, turned off ignition, roused defendant and ordered him out of vehicle, at which time deputy noticed strong odor of alcohol; and although deputy testified that his concern was for defendant's well-being, he did not contact medical personnel -- Motion to suppress granted

STATE OF FLORIDA v. J.H. County Court, 6th Judicial Circuit in and for Pasco County. Marc H. Salton, Judge. Counsel: State Attorney's Office. Craig A. Epifanio, Law Office of Craig Epifanio, P.A., St. Petersburg, for Defendant.


THIS CAUSE having come before the Court upon the Defendant's Motion to Suppress as a result of an illegal stop and unlawful arrest, and after taking testimony of both the State and Defense witnesses and hearing argument of both counsel for the State and for the Defense, and after reviewing the applicable and cited case law, the Court finds as follows:

The Court heard testimony from one witness, Deputy Cain, who was the first officer to encounter the Defendant and his vehicle. This Court finds that Deputy Cain was within his right to approach the Defendant's vehicle and investigate the anonymous tip about an individual slumped over his vehicle's steering wheel while in the Target parking lot. The officer testified the time to be about 9:32 p.m. which was during Target's business hours. The Defendant's vehicle had its lights on, a turn signal on, and the engine running. There was no testimony presented as to anything suspicious about the way the vehicle was parked. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer testified that his concern was for the Defendant's welfare because the Defendant was slumped over the wheel and he saw the Defendant drooling on his pants. Deputy Cain did not suspect that the Defendant was committing any traffic infractions or that the Defendant was involved in any criminal activity. After knocking on the driver's window for about 45 seconds, Deputy Cain opened the vehicle door, turned off the ignition, and then attempted to wake the Defendant. After shaking the Defendant several times, the Defendant woke up, and Deputy Cain ordered the Defendant to step out of the vehicle. Deputy Cain testified that while he noticed a slight odor of alcohol once he opened the door, it was only after the Defendant stepped out of the vehicle did he notice a strong odor of alcohol coming from the Defendant,

This Court finds that by ordering the Defendant to exit his vehicle the Defendant was being detained by the officer. The officer never articulated a belief or suspicion that the Defendant was under the influence of alcohol or committing any other criminal offense. Deputy Cain instead testified that his main concern was for the Defendant's medical condition and welfare though he did not contact EMS or other medical personnel but rather had the Defendant walk around his vehicle. Then the officer called for a DUI investigator, Deputy Carmen, who subsequently did a DUI investigation and thereafter arrested the Defendant for DUI. Deputy Cain's actions were not reasonable under the circumstances, and once the Defendant was ordered out of his vehicle, he was illegally detained.

This Court relies on the factually similar case of State v. Campbell, 10 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 46a (Fla. Dade Cty. Ct., Nov. 21, 2002) where the officer in that case also testified his concern was for the driver's well-being. That officer did not see any open containers; he knocked on the window with no response; entered the vehicle; felt the driver's pulse; found the key in the ignition and vehicle in drive mode; and, then ordered the Defendant out of the vehicle where he was found to have slurred speech and a strong odor of alcohol. The Court found that the failure of the officer to contact medical personnel since that was the basis for the officer's investigation, was not reasonable and that the Defendant's detention was unlawful.

Just as in Campbell, there was no testimony from Deputy Cain to indicate that he suspected the Defendant was committing any criminal offense, including Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol.

It is, therefore ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Defendant's Motion to Suppress is hereby GRANTED based upon the illegal detention of the Defendant without reasonable suspicion.

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