A dispute over three hands on a folded sweatshirt led to a reversal by the Fourth District Court of Appeal on a delinquency conviction of a minor for carrying a concealed weapon.
The juvenile male, referred to in the case as B.L., was in the process of handing a sweatshirt to a female juvenile when the arresting officer in St. Lucie County also grabbed the sweatshirt.
Wrapped in the sweatshirt was a knife, for which the minor later pleaded no contest. But he reserved his right to appeal St. Lucie Circuit Judge Mark Wayne Klingensmith’s denial of a motion to suppress the evidence.
The arrest took place at night in a city park while the officer had a patrol car lamp shining on three youths. But it was the officer’s grabbing of the sweatshirt while two youths had a hand on it that led to a controversy.
Had the male youth actually surrendered the sweatshirt to the girl? If so, he had no right to privacy and the officer could unfold it without concern for a showing of probable cause or a warrant.
“The state’s theory was that the encounter was consensual and that B.L. began to abandon or actually abandoned the property,” Fourth District Judge Burton Conner wrote in his opinion.
“Because B.L. had not yet let go of the jacket, he retained some control … therefore, his reasonable expectation of privacy had not yet been relinquished.”
That still left a legal question of whether the encounter was consensual. Conner concluded that because the officer held a spotlight on the youth and physically grabbed the sweatshirt while stating, “Whoa, what are you doing,” the circumstance elevated to an investigatory stop.
B.L., therefore, had standing to contest the seizure, the officer did not have grounds for an investigatory stop and the Fourth District reversed the denial of B.L.’s motion to suppress and remanded the case with instructions to vacate the determination of delinquency.
Fourth District Judges Robert Gross and Carole Taylor concurred.