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Did You Know Florida Cops Can Stop Your Vehicle For Drinking A Beverage In A Paper Bag?
At least one Florida Appellate Court has ruled that it is lawful to stop a vehicle because the driver was seen drinking a beverage in a paper bag.
Ronnie Dixon was seen by a Florida Highway Patrol Officer drinking from a bottle in a brown paper bag. The officer found this suspicious, turned his blue lights on, and stopped the vehicle Dixon was driving. As a result of events occurring following the stop, Dixon was charged with possession of cocaine, tampering with evidence, driving under the influence and resisting arrest without violence.
Dixon’s criminal defense attorney filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop. The defense lawyer contended that stopping Dixon’s vehicle because he was drinking a beverage in a paper bag violated his client’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions.
At the hearing on the motion to suppress the officer testified as follows:
Based on my experience if I see someone operating a vehicle and drinking from a paper bag the first, one of the first things that comes to my mind is that that's the way alcohol is concealed, is sold in, I would say nine out of ten times, it's sold in the store and it's concealed in a paper bag and that's usually how someone operating a vehicle would carry alcohol if they're drinking it.
Under state and federal constitutional law, a law enforcement officer must have “well founded suspicion” or “reasonable suspicion” of a law violation, supported by “articulable facts,” before stopping or detaining a vehicle or person. If a law enforcement officer does not have “reasonable suspicion,” supported by “articulable facts,” evidence obtained as a result of a stop must be suppressed.
Dixon’s crimnal defense attorney argued that what the officer observed - a person consuming a beverage in a paper bag - did not amount to a well-founded, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. Drinking a beverage in a paper sack, the defense lawyer contended, did not create sufficent suspicion to support a stop.
Both the trial Court and the Appellate Court rejected the defense attorney’s argument. The Distrist Court of Appeal ruled as follows:
Appellant appears to misunderstand the difference between well-founded suspicion and probable cause, as he argues that "there was an equal or greater likelihood that the bottle inside the bag was water or a soft drink." That would not be the test here. Reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than probable cause ... The officer's testimony supports the trial court's finding of a reasonable, well-founded suspicion that appellant was drinking alcohol from an open container while driving. See Dixon v State, 785 So. 2d 615 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001)
To my knowledge, the Florida Supreme Court has not definitively ruled on this issue. But, for the present, you should be aware that drinking apple juice (or even Coke, Pepsi or water) from a paper bag just might get you pulled over in the state of Florida.