New Case on Fellow Officer Rule in Motions to Suppress

The Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion yesterday that criminal defense attorneys will enjoy.  The case is State v. Bowers (SC09-1971) and involves the use of the fellow officer rule in motions to suppress.

Before yesterday’s decision, Florida courts were split on the issue, with the Second and Fourth DCA’s being in conflict.

The conflict issue involves the application of the fellow officer rule to testimony in a motion to suppress hearing where the defendant is challenging the validity of a traffic stop. The Court held that the fellow officer rule does not allow an officer who does not have firsthand knowledge of the traffic stop and was not involved in the investigation at that time to testify as to hearsay regarding what the initial officer who conducted the stop told him or her for the purpose of proving a violation of the traffic law so as to establish the validity of the initial stop.

Hypothetical Example

Primarily, this issue is going to pop up in a motion to suppress where the initial officer (for whatever reason) is not present and the second officer was not involved in the initial stop.  Here’s a hypothetical:

A car is stopped for speeding by Ofc. #1.  Ofc. #2 shows up to assist and sees drugs in the car.  Ofc. #1 tells Ofc. #2 that the car was stopped for speeding.  Ofc. #2 was not a witness to the speeding violation.  Defendant (driver) is subsequently arrested for possessing marijuana in the vehicle.  Defendant files a motion to suppress.  Ofc. #1 doesn’t show up for the hearing.  Ofc.#2 shows up and testifies that the reason for the initial stop was for speeding.

In the past, some Florida courts have allowed Ofc. #2 to testify to such events pursuant to the fellow officer rule and allow such testimony to establish probable cause for the traffic stop.  In fact, the law of the land depended on what county the arrest occurred.  Those days are gone and now defense attorneys across Florida can rejoice in knowing the Florida Supreme Court has spoken.

Again, to reiterate the holding:  The fellow officer rule does not allow an officer who does not have firsthand knowledge of the traffic stop and was not involved in the investigation at that time to testify as to hearsay regarding what the initial officer who conducted the stop told him or her for the purpose of proving a violation of the traffic law so as to establish the validity of the initial stop.

To read the full opinion, go here.

~At Matthews Law Firm, P.A., we practice criminal defense & health law.~

(Disclaimer: This post does not constitute legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.)

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