DAYTONA BEACH – The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to hear
an appeal of a 5th Circuit Court of Appeal ruling that requires passengers in
a vehicle stopped for a traffic violation to remain in the vehicle or at the
scene of the traffic stop.
The circuit court’s ruling covers 13 counties in Florida,
including Volusia, Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns, Orange, Osceola, Lake, Marion,
Sumter, Citrus, Hernando, Brevard and Seminole counties. If the Florida Supreme
Court agrees with the ruling, it will become the law throughout the state.
The ruling stems from a case in which Edwin Aguiar, a
passenger in a vehicle during a traffic stop, stayed in the vehicle at the
officer’s request and was arrested on a drug charge and ultimately convicted.
In its ruling, the circuit court cited a case in which the
U.S. Supreme Court gave weight to statistics showing the danger associated with
“Per the law, (passengers) will not be allowed to leave and
will have to comply with the lawful orders of a law enforcement officer,” Jim Troiano,
operational support section director and commander of the Law Enforcement
Reserve Unit for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, told the Florida Record.
Troiano said each case will differ, depending on the
specific circumstances of the traffic stop, and the officer’s decision of whether
or not to require the passenger to actually remain in the vehicle must be
evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“Many times, it is all about the safety of the officer and
the facts surrounding the stop,” Troiano said. “It is also about the safety of
the person who departs a vehicle. In some cases, they may be on a limited
access highway and they cannot walk to the roadway without it being any
emergency. Other times it is dangerous for them to get out as they may cause a
The potential of criminal activity also plays a role in the
officer’s decision, Troiano said.
“You never know who you are stopping and you
do not know what they may have just done,” he said. “Traffic stops are
The Florida laws that apply to “seizing” passengers during a
traffic stop include resisting an officer without violence (FSS 843.02), which
is a misdemeanor, and being on a limited access highway, which falls under a
non-criminal infraction related to the requirement of pedestrians when on
roadways (FSS 316.130), according to Troiano.
“After careful consideration, this is a matter that has been
ruled on and is now going to be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court and maybe
even the U.S. Supreme Court,” Troiano said. “Our actions must always be
reasonable and justified and in accordance with the law. The case is now law
and officers have the right to order someone to stay in their vehicle. If they
do not comply, they may be charged with a violation of FSS 843.02.”
Troiano said the police ask citizens to comply with the
lawful commands of an officer, no matter what the law. If a citizen has
questions or complaints related to the actions of law enforcement officers, he
said they should ask for clarification and “act in a professional and
respectful manner.” If the issue cannot be resolved at the scene, Troiano said
the citizen should contact the officer’s immediate supervisor to resolve the