While “loitering or prowling” is a misdemeanor in Florida, convictions for this charge can result in costly fines, probation, possible jail time, and a mark on your permanent criminal record. Prosecutors take loitering or prowling charges seriously in Miami, and so should you. If you get arrested, your first call should be to the experienced Miami criminal defense lawyer at Stroleny Law, P.A. As a former prosecutor, he knows how the criminal justice system works in South Florida, and has defended against a wide range of misdemeanor and felony charges.
What is Loitering or Prowling?
Florida law makes it illegal to loiter or prowl in a certain manner, at a certain time, or in a certain place. There are many circumstances under which a police officer may accuse someone of loitering or prowling. However, simply because an officer believes a person is acting suspiciously does not necessarily mean the person is in violation of the law and should be arrested.
To convict you of loitering or prowling, a prosecutor must prove that your presence was unusual for reasonable law-abiding individuals and that the circumstances created justifiable concern for public safety or the condition of property. Simply put, officers commonly accuse people of loitering or prowling when they believe that a person is waiting in a particular place and is about to commit a crime.
Like many Florida criminal defenses related to public order, loitering or prowling can be a highly subjective matter. Police officers often arrest people who seem suspicious even if there is no specific indication they are unlawfully present. For this reason, many people face wrongful loitering or prowling charges. If you’ve been charged with this offense, you need a skilled criminal defense lawyer in Miami handling your case as soon as possible.
Arrests for Loitering or Prowling in Miami
Because loitering or prowling arrests can be so subjective, the law sets out certain circumstances under which police may claim that concern for the public or property is justified:
- You flee the area when you see a law enforcement officer
- You refuse to identify yourself to an officer
- You try to conceal yourself or an object in your possession
Unless you flee and it is impossible, an officer must give you the chance to dispel alarm or concern by explaining your presence and conduct. The law prohibits officers from arresting you for loitering or prowling unless they follow this procedure. If an officer arrests you despite your explanation, the law provides that you should not be convicted of this offense if your explanation was true and the officer should have accepted the explanation to dispel the alarm or concern.
Because of these highly specific requirements for convictions under the Florida statute, defending against loitering or prowling charges often depends on a close examination of the circumstances surrounding your arrest. Should your presence have caused alarm? Did you engage in any of the mentioned suspicious behaviors? Did the officer give you a chance to explain yourself? Should your explanation have been sufficient to avoid an arrest? These are all questions that our criminal defense lawyer examines, and can often use the answers to your benefit.
There are other common defenses against loitering or prowling charges, including:
- Mere idleness – It is not illegal to be in a place at an odd time. Just because you are out at night and standing idly does not mean the police have the right to demand an explanation for your presence or arrest you for loitering or prowling.
- No threat – If you are not doing anything that suggests you may commit a crime, pose a threat, or breach the peace, you should not be detained for loitering or prowling.
- No police present – Police officers must be present and witness your conduct to justify an arrest for loitering or prowling. Officers should not arrest you solely based on reports from others.
- Later justifications – Sometimes, police may approach you for no reason and base an arrest on your reaction to the detention. If the initial detention was not on justified suspicion of loitering or prowling, an arrest is also not justified. Additionally, if the police arrest you and then find evidence indicating you were planning to commit a crime, prosecutors cannot use that evidence to support a loitering or prowling charge.
As you can see, there are many ways to defend against loitering or prowling charges in Miami, FL. Contact our criminal defense firm as soon as possible so that we may identify which defenses may apply in your situation.
Possible Penalties of a Conviction
Loitering or prowling is a second-degree misdemeanor, which is less serious than first-degree misdemeanors and all felony offenses. However, you should never take a second-degree misdemeanor charge lightly, as a conviction can still mean consequences that can impact your life. Possible penalties under Florida law include:
- $500 fine
- 60 days in jail
- Community service
These penalties may not seem so serious until you receive a sentence. Then, paying fines and court costs or undergoing the frightening experience of two months in jail will seem harsh. Having a criminal record can also affect your employment, housing, and more. You should always take steps as soon as possible to defend against loitering or prowling charges.
Our Miami criminal defense lawyer works to get charges dropped whenever possible. He also regularly negotiates with prosecutors for a lesser sentence to keep his clients out of jail. He understands the many possible ways that exist to mitigate the effects of a criminal charge, and he can protect your rights.
Discuss Your Charges with a Miami Misdemeanor Defense Lawyer Today
While the loitering or prowling law in Florida is clear about when an officer should arrest you, too many people find themselves in handcuffs and facing charges after an unjustified arrest. Always realize that the lawyer of Stroleny Law, P.A. is ready to help. He will stand up for your rights against unlawful arrests and wrongful charges. If you’ve been arrested, call today at 305-615-1285 or contact us online to consult with our Miami criminal defense attorney right away.