Loitering or prowling is any behavior or conduct that is unusual and poses a threat to the physical safety of persons or property in the area. The purpose of loitering or prowling laws is to stop criminal behavior before it ripens into the commission of a substantive criminal act. In other words, to stop a crime before it happens. Loitering or prowling is a misdemeanor of the second degree in Florida, punishable by up to 60 days in the county jail.
What are the elements of Loitering or Prowling in Florida?
Loitering or prowling under Florida law has two elements, or things that a prosecutor must prove:
The defendant loitered or prowled in a place, at a time, or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals; and
Such loitering or prowling was under circumstances that warranted a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity.
What are some things that, absent a non-criminal explanation, may be considered loitering or prowling?
Basically, unusual actions that point to the commission of future criminal activity can be considered loitering or prowling, such as:
Hiding in the bushes of a home or business where the person has no reason to be
Trying the handle of several cars or home doors to see if they are unlocked
Looking in windows of homes or cars for no legitimate reason
What else can convince the police that a person is loitering or prowling?
Florida law says that there are certain things that the police can consider when determining whether alarm or immediate concern is warranted:
the person runs from law enforcement
the person refuses to identify himself or herself
the person hides himself or herself or any object
The opportunity to “dispel any alarm or concern”
A loitering or prowling case can be dropped if the police fail to allow the person the opportunity to “dispel any alarm or concern.” Before arresting a person for loitering or prowling, law enforcement must give the person an opportunity to identify and explain their presence in the area and their conduct.
If the person has a non-criminal explanation for their conduct
If a person has a non-criminal reason for their behavior and presence in the area this can be a defense to loitering or prowling.
The police must observe both elements before making an arrest
In order to legally arrest a person for loitering or prowling in Florida, both elements that make up the alleged loitering or prowling must occur in the officer's presence. For instance, if law enforcement responds to a report that someone was loitering or prowling and arrests the person but does not actually witness the alleged loitering or prowling, then it very well may be an illegal arrest.