People need to be aware that, albeit often illegally, they may be arrested by merely asking questions to officers who are arresting someone else. The best thing to do is to observe as much information about the incident as possible from a distance, obtain, without interference, the name of the officer or the number of his or her squad car.
Just asking where the officers are taking the person being arrested should not result in your arrest, but unfortunately in Pensacola, Pensacola Beach, etc., people are arrested for doing nothing more than asking these types of questions. Be careful. You can always find out information about your friend or loved one later by calling the Escambia County Jail at 436-9820 ask for booking.
As mentioned, people may be arrested for “disorderly conduct,” “obstruction,” or “resisting arrest without violence” for merely asking questions directed to law enforcement about why the officers may be arresting their friends or loved ones.
In order for a law enforcement officer to arrest someone for disorderly conduct or resisting arrest without violence, which is sometimes referred to as “obstruction of justice,” the officer must be engaged in a lawful duty and must have reasonable suspicion that the person arrested after “asking questions” had committed, was committing, or was in the process of committing a crime.
Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal held in Johnson v. Guevara, __ So. 3d __, 40 F.L.W. D257 (3d DCA 1/21/2015):
“In [resisting without violence] cases involving an investigatory detention, it is necessary for the State to prove that the officer had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” A.T. v. State, 93 So. 3d 1159, 1160 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012). Thus, whether the officer was engaged in a lawful duty turns on whether the officer had a reasonable suspicion the person had committed, was committing, or was about to commit the act of disorderly conduct when the officer ordered the person to do a certain act, e.g. leave or, in the A.T. case, instruct him to sit on the ground.
In State v. Saunders, 339 So. 2d 641, 644 (Fla. 1976), the Florida Supreme Court construed the disorderly conduct statute to limit its application to words which “by their very utterance . . . inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace,” or to words, known to be false, reporting some physical hazard in circumstances where such a report creates a clear and present danger of bodily harm to others.” Id. (citations omitted). In other words, “no words except ‘fighting words’ or words like shouts of ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre fall” are within its prohibition.
Disorderly conduct can be founded on words alone if the words either caused a crowd to gather, thereby resulting in safety concerns, or if the words incited a crowd to engage in an “immediate breach of the peace.” C.H.C. v. State, 988 So. 2d 1145, 1146-47 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008); A.S.C. v. State, 14 So. 3d 1118, 1119 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009).
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