We Florida traffic ticket attorneys talk quite a lot about how the best way to avoid turning a routine traffic stop into something more serious is to be polite to the officer stopping you. Generally, you do not want to be a jerk to the officer and give the officer an excuse to detain you or arrest you. While we stand by this general advice, it is possible to be arrested and spend the night in jail in Florida after a routine traffic stop even if you did not do anything other than what you were stopped for to begin with.
A recent 11th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals decision illustrates the problem. The case comes out of Georgia. A woman by the name of Amanda Cruz stopped at a traffic light and decided to adjust her seat belt. The car behind her was driven by a state trooper. Cruz had not completely finished adjusting her seat belt when she pulled into the intersection and the officer decided to pull her over for driving without wearing a seat belt. This crime is so minor that it carries only a $15 fine in the state of Georgia.
Unfortunately, for Cruz, the trooper discovered that there was an arrest warrant out for an Amanda Cruz. The person with the warrant was described as having red hair and having tattoos up and down her arms and legs. The Amanda Cruz who was stopped had brown hair and no tattoos. Additionally, she was 5 inches shorter than the Amanda Cruz with the warrant. None of that mattered to the trooper making the stop. He arrested the driver anyway and took her to jail. Cruz was taken to jail, interviewed and made to stay overnight until her mother could come and pay a $120 bond for the $15 seat belt violation.
Cruz was outraged and sued. The Federal Court of Appeals threw out the lawsuit. Sounds crazy right. I was thinking false imprisonment, but cops and other State officials have almost complete immunity while doing their jobs. Yes, Rodney King was different and so are the cops that sexually assault citizens etc. But for the most part a cop can ruin your life and have no consequences. Reminds me of the cops in Broward County that I used to deal with while I was a Public Defender. I was told over and over again from my clients that the cops would add a Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer (BAT LEO) to a drug charge, just in case the drug charges did not stick. The BAT LEO was a felony and all the cop had to say was that the defendant punched him. Even a tap on the leg was turned into a felony. Makes you want to scream.
If you are thinking that since this case has been Georgia it doesn’t apply in Florida, you are wrong. The same Court of Appeals issues rulings for both states and this is now the law of the land in the state of Florida. As a traffic ticket attorney in Florida, there is not much advice that can be given about how to avoid this situation other than to avoid getting pulled over for a minor traffic offense if you happen to have the same name as someone who has a warrant out for his or her arrest. Being caught in that unfortunate situation can land you in jail for an overnight stay. At least in the case of Amanda Cruz, her seat belt ticket was dropped by a state court. If something similar does happen to you, make sure that you hire an experienced Florida traffic ticket attorney. The attorney might not be able to do anything about the overnight jail stay, but at least you can get help with the Florida traffic ticket. Our office gives free consultations and has several experienced Florida traffic ticket attorneys who can help you fight the ticket.