Routine traffic stops in Florida are an unfortunate, but necessary aspect of life. Law enforcement officials are charged with keeping our roads safe — and sometimes, that means pulling over drivers who do not appear to comply with the rules of the road. In turn, however, officers must act respectfully and abide by drivers’ rights. When either drivers or officers step out of line, they risk escalating the situation.
The Sandra Bland case, below, demonstrates the need for everyone, including Northwest Florida residents, to have an understanding of what happens during a traffic stop. Armed with this information, drivers can better conduct themselves in a way to protect their rights and properly assume the responsibilities given to them. It is also critical that citizens understand a police officer’s rights and responsibilities during a routine traffic stop in Florida.
Sandra Bland Case
On July 10, 2015 Sandra Bland, 28 years of age, was driving in Waller County, Texas. She had accepted a new job offer that brought her from Illinois back to Texas, where she had attended college at Prairie View A&M University.
Trooper Brian Encinia pulled Bland over for allegedly failing to signal a lane change. According to audio and video evidence made public by the authorities, the two parties got into a heated argument when he asked her to put out a cigarette. She did not comply with the request, and, then, as a result, Encinia asked her to get out of the car.
Again, Bland refused to do as ordered, stating that she was not under arrest for any legitimate reason. The officer then placed her under arrest, apparently for refusing the lawful order to exit the vehicle. Eventually, the officer forced the woman out of the car, using a stun gun.
Bland died three days later, in a solitary jail cell. Official reports indicate the cause of death to be asphyxiation during a successful suicide.
Watch the police dashcam courtesy of USA Today here:
What Went Wrong Here?
Officers must inform drivers of the exact reason for the traffic stop. And, in the case of an arrest, the Supreme Court, in Miranda vs. Arizona (384 U.S. 436), 1966, acknowledged the need to state explicitly the criminal charge and the rights that the alleged criminal has to defend themselves against prosecution.
In the Bland case, many things appear to have gone wrong. First, an officer should always attempt to de-escalate the situation. Officer Encino failed in this regard. His physical removal of Bland from the car left her with physical injuries that seem unnecessary when one considers that the original infraction was merely failing to properly signal a turn. Even with a poor attitude and lack of respect for the officer, his behavior and demeanor from the moment of contact did little to ease the tension.
Traffic Stop Basics: What You Should Know
During routine traffic stops, both officers and drivers must conduct themselves respectfully and according to both local and federal laws. On the officer’s end, this means informing the driver of the exact reason for the traffic stop. In the event of an arrest, the officer should state the criminal charges as well as the alleged offender’s rights.
In turn, the driver should comply with any reasonable requests. These could include requests for proof of identification or for the driver to step out of the vehicle. Drivers who refuse to comply risk violating Florida State Law 316.072 (3), which refers to the willful refusal to comply with lawful orders as a second-degree misdemeanor. A conviction under this offense could result in up to 60 days imprisonment, along with any other sentences arising from the traffic stop.
Examples of Dangerous Escalation in Routine Traffic Stops in Florida
In recent years, several routine traffic stops gone wrong have hit headlines. As mentioned earlier, in 2015 a seemingly basic stop prompted by a driver’s alleged failure to use her turn signal ended with the use of a stun gun. Audio and video evidence revealed that driver Sandra Bland argued with the arresting officer when asked to put out her cigarette. She also refused to exit her vehicle upon request. She died three days later, with reports indicating suicide-related asphyxiation. In fact, new video recently emerged from her cell phone during the traffic stop.
More recently, Sergeant David Stang and an accompanying police dog were shot in an incident that began with a typical traffic stop. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri later explained, “It was an original traffic stop that he escalated and turned into something, then he tried to kill a deputy…these are always the calls you dread.” Both the officer and the K-9 lived, but the suspect fled the scene and eventually died of “what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
How to Avoid Problems
It’s only natural to feel annoyed during routine traffic stops in Florida, but it’s always best to remain calm. Routine stops often turn into full-blown arrests due to angry outbursts. A variety of problems can best be avoided by following these simple suggestions:
- Speak respectfully
- Comply with the officer’s instructions
- Avoid excessive or unnecessary questions
- Avoid physical displays of anger
- If an officer behaves unprofessionally, note his or her identification number and file a report later
Seeking Help For Florida Traffic Stops Gone Wrong
No matter how you behave, there is always the potential for a traffic stop to end badly. In such situations, it is critical that you assert your rights with the help of a trusted criminal defense lawyer. Destin defense attorney John F. Greene will act as your loyal advocate, offering the aggressive and strategic representation needed to bring your case to a successful close. Get started today by calling 850-424-6833 or scheduling a case consultation.