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The Florida Supreme Court recently invalidated a state statute for being unconstitutional, and as a result may have set a basis to attack the stop and search of a vehicle in a criminal case.

In Catalano v. State (Case No.: 2D10-973, decided May 11, 2011), the Second District Court of Appeals stepped up to the plate and declared a long-standing basis for traffic stops unconstitutional.  In Catalano, the defendant was cited for the noncriminal infraction of playing his stereo too loudly, such that it could be heard from 25 feet away – a violation of section 316.3045 of the Florida statutes.  He asked the misdemeanor court to dismiss his citation because it was based on an unconstitutional law, but the judge refused.  Catalano appealed the judge’s decision to the felony court, who also refused to invalidate the statute.  Catalano then took the matter up with the Second District Court of Appeals, who looked at the statute and determined it to be a restriction on free speech.

Once a court finds that a statute is a restriction of free speech, the State can still justify the restriction by claiming that it is necessary to achieve an important societal goal, called a “compelling state interest.”  Compelling state interests have been found to be interests such as winning a war, upholding national security, and protecting witnesses and jurors from retribution.  The Court found that such a statute does not adequately address any compelling state interest, and that it allowed for arbitrary enforcement and contained vague terms.

This statute is used as a basis to begin many criminal investigations.  I represent many people who are pulled over for this infraction only to have their car searched a few minutes later.  Any drugs found in the vehicle typically lead to criminal charges for all of the occupants.  This ruling provides a basis to challenge criminal cases where people are arrested after a stop based on a loud stereo system.

The fight isn’t over.  The Second DCA noted that they are in conflict with other appellate courts regarding this issue and certified the question to the Supreme Court, where the ultimate outcome of this battle will be determined.  In the mean time, if you are being charged with a crime, don’t face it alone.  Visit my website at http://www.shafercriminallaw.com or call me at (904)350-9333 for a free consultation.

~Robert Shafer

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