3/22/2018Florida Gang Unit Cops May Not Write Seatbelt Tickets
Florida Appeals Court says local cop working on a county task force may not write traffic tickets outside of his normal jurisdiction.
A Florida police officer detailed to a special county gang task force has no power to write traffic tickets outside of his regular jurisdiction. The state Court of Appeal on Wednesday rejected the charges that followed from a seatbelt ticket written against Michael Biondi, a motorist unlawfully stopped by a task force member who misunderstood the limits of his authority.
Broward County created a multi-agency gang task force to deal with South Florida's outbreak of gang-related violent crime. City police officers from the area participated in joint missions as special deputies assigned to the Broward County Sheriff's Office. One of those special deputies, a Pembroke Pines police officer, stopped Biondi in Hollywood as Biondi was driving his roommate home on September 19, 2014.
While writing the ticket, the officer called in for a drug sniffing dog and performed a consent search of the automobile. An envelope with three capsules of heroin was found placed in the driver's side sun visor. Biondi was arrested and convicted for possession of less than ten grams of the contraband after the Broward County Circuit Court found nothing wrong with the traffic stop.
A three-judge appellate panel reversed the lower court, pointing out that the document appointing the officer to the gang task force was explicit about the powers of the participating special deputies.
"Under no circumstances will the special deputy exercise his/her powers as a special deputy solely to initiate or further an investigation beyond the task force unless pursuant to written authorization of the sheriff or his designee," the notice of appointment stated.
The appellate court pointed out that state law limits what a special deputy can do, explicitly prohibiting the sheriff from delegating "unrestrained power" to deputized officials.
"Thus, while a special deputy is authorized to use the powers available to a sheriff when performing activities specifically allowed by the statute or as part of the specific program under which he is deputized, he may not exercise that power when he is acting beyond the scope of his role as a special deputy," Judge Spencer D. Levine wrote for the court.
The officer assumed that as long as he was working with the sheriff's office on a "sweep day," he had all of the powers of a deputy sheriff in the county. He explained that on the day he stopped Biondi, the "sweep" was the same as a regular law enforcement patrol.
"The officer's interpretation of the task force's authority directly contradicted the notice of appointment's provision that task force members do not, in fact, have general BSO law enforcement authority," Judge Levine ruled. "The officer's testimony, which conflicted with the notice of appointment's limitations on deputy authority, was insufficient to show that he had jurisdiction to make the stop. The lack of evidence demonstrating jurisdiction mandates reversal here."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.