Can You Be Arrested for Loitering or Prowling?

Loitering, also referred to as prowling, is a misdemeanor offense under Florida Statute 856.021 that many law enforcement officers use to justify the detention and search of a suspect.

You can charged with loitering or prowling, if you are in a place and at a time where normal, law-abiding citizens are not commonly found and which could be construed as posing a threat to property or to others. If you are discovered by a police officer who asks you to identify yourself and you refuse, or you try to conceal your presence, or you immediately flee the scene, the officer may have grounds to charge you with loitering since you did not adequately justify your presence at the location.

Under Florida law, even if you are in a place where a reasonable police officer could assume was not usual for someone unless they were committing or about to commit a crime, you still can convince the officer of your legal presence by identifying yourself and giving a reasonable explanation.

Examples of Loitering or prowling

Examples of loitering or prowling include being found in a warehouse at night, hiding in the bushes on private property, or found looking at cars in a parking lot. Normally, you might have no business or purpose for being on the property, but the officer must determine if your behavior is “alarming in nature” or imminently threatens the property or safety of others in the area.

Defenses

Merely “hanging out” somewhere in public or on private property does not automatically arise to the level of criminal conduct or activity that would permit a police officer to suspect you of loitering. Unless there are facts the officer can point to that demonstrate an imminent or immediate risk to property or someone’s safety, your detention and any evidence obtained from you based on an unlawful detention could be ruled unlawful and inadmissible.

You could also be accused of loitering based on the suspicions of another person. However, unless the officer observes you loitering, you should not be subject to arrest. Also, the officer must have given you an opportunity to identify yourself and explain any reason for your presence or activity.

Without any facts demonstrating that you were imminently endangering property or the safety of someone else, the police have no legal grounds to arrest or detain you.

Loitering or prowling is usually charged as a second degree misdemeanor, which means you could serve a combination of up to 60-days in jail, 6 months probation and a $500 fine.

Be aware that any criminal record such as loitering or prowling can severely restrict your ability to find employment, get a loan, enroll in school, or other collateral consequences. Should you face a loitering or prowling offense in the Orlando, Florida area, immediately contact the criminal defense firm of The Law Office of Travis Williams, who can help you in your defense of this or any other criminal charge.