Next up on my running series about the absurd bills debated in the Florida Legislature is SB 1428. This bipartisan bill, sponsored by Republican Thad Altman in the Senate and Democrat Adam Fetterman in the House, would expand warrantless arrests in Florida.
What are warrantless arrests? The definition is self-explanatory: any arrest without a warrant. Obviously, officers arrest people every day without a warrant. The reason? Most state laws allow police to make a warrantless arrests if 1) the criminal act is a felony, 2) the officer sees the crime committed or, in some cases, if probable cause is obvious (like if an officer sees a huge stash of cocaine in the seat of your car).
Warrantless arrests aren’t necessarily bad. In cases of murder or armed robbery, for example, you need to get the suspect off the street immediately. A case can be argued for some misdemeanors, too, like domestic violence. But some states have gone a little overboard and given officers the right to conduct warrantless arrests on all misdemeanors without any requirements. For example, the testimony of a citizen could be enough to garner an arrest.
SB 1428 would expand warrantless arrest laws to include the unlawful public exhibition of sexual organs and DUI. The first part seems OK; just think of some perv in front of a school. Just because the perv might be clothed when officers arrive, you would like the police to have enough probable cause to haul him away just by the words of a few students who saw him do his dirty deed. But warrantless arrest laws and DUI could have larger implications.
I’ll let Frankie the Law Dog explain:
The current version of the warrentless arrest statute allows officers to arrest a person on misdemeanor DUI without a warrant in only three circumstances: (1) when the officer witnesses each element of a prima facie case of DUI, (2) when the officer is investigating an accident and develops probable cause to charge DUI, or (3) under the so-called “fellow officer” rule – when one officer calls on another officer for assistance and the combined observations of the two officers together establish probable cause for the arrest.
Importantly, under the current version of the statute, the fellow officer rule does not impute the knowledge of citizen informants to law enforcement officers. However, if HB 793 becomes law, any citizen could walk up to an officer and relate the commission of misdemeanor DUI by someone, and the officer would have probable cause to arrest.
I can think of a dozen instances where “citizens” could unfairly blame DUI on someone. DUI is a serious crime, no doubt. But just like sex offenses, a DUI arrest — even if the suspect is not ultimately convicted — can have major implications on someone’s professional and family life. Shouldn’t we keep the tough warrantless arrest safeguards we have now?
(P.S. I fully admit I don’t have a law degree and I’m open for debate on this one from someone who does.)