Court of Appeals
842 So.2d 889
February 12, 2003
A police officer stopped
defendant Jones when he discovered him galloping his horse on a public street at
11:30 p.m. As a result of the stop,
the officer discovered illegal drugs and a weapon on Jonesí person.
He was convicted of those offenses and appeals, contending the stop of
his horse was illegal. In this
opinion, the Court of Appeals agrees with Jones.
The officer said he stopped Jones because the horse did not have
taillights or reflectors, but under Florida law those requirements do not apply
to horses, only motor vehicles. There
was no evidence that Jonesí activities endangered others.
And, while it is unusual activity, by itself that is not reason to stop
the horseback rider. The court set
aside the convictions.
Jonathan Dye Jones seeks
review of the trial court's order denying his motion to suppress evidence found
after he was stopped while riding on horseback. Jones argues that the trial
court erroneously found that the stop was based on a founded suspicion of
criminal activity. We agree and reverse.
This is an appeal from a no
contest plea entered after Jones reserved the right to appeal the denial of a
motion to suppress. On February 6, 2002, following the denial of his motion to
suppress, Jones pleaded no contest to possession of cocaine, possession of
paraphernalia, and carrying a concealed weapon. The trial court found that the
motion was dispositive.
At the suppression hearing,
Deputy Brandon Todd testified that at about 11:30 p.m. on August 1, 2001, he saw
Jones on horseback riding at a full speed gallop down the street. Although there
were pedestrians and traffic in the area, Deputy Todd did not see Jones actually
impede traffic or endanger any pedestrians or motorists. The deputy stopped
Jones for failing to have lights or reflectors and for operating without due
regard for public safety.
When Deputy Todd stopped
Jones, Jones dismounted, took off his jacket, and dropped the jacket on the
ground. Deputy Todd saw that Jones had a rifle on his saddle. When the deputy
asked Jones whether he had any other weapons on him, Jones lifted his pants leg
to reveal a knife within his boot. Deputy Todd arrested Jones, and a search of
the jacket that he had thrown down revealed a crack pipe.
The trial court found that,
although there was no evidence that Jones endangered other people, "the
sheer unusualness of a person riding a horse at 11:30 at night at a full gallop
down a paved road is sufficient that it could cause a police officer to be
suspicious as to what's going on without the need to endanger other
people." The court added that the potential endangerment to other people
also provided justification for the stop.
A trial court's factual
findings on a motion to suppress will not be overturned if supported by
competent, substantial evidence. Caso v.
State, 524 So.2d 422, 424 (Fla.1988). Application of the law to the facts
found by the trial court is reviewed de novo.
Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 696‑97 (1996). In order for
the stop of Jones to be proper, the police must have had a reasonable suspicion
of criminal activity, Terry v. Ohio,
392 U.S. 1, 20 (1968), or probable cause to believe he committed a traffic
infraction. Whren v. United States,
517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996).
In this case, there was no
evidence that the police had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and
the trial court made no such finding. The trial court found that the stop was
valid for two reasons: (1) "the sheer unusualness of a person riding a
horse at 11:30 at night at a full gallop down a paved road"; and (2) the
potential endangerment to others that resulted from this action. However,
neither of these activities provides probable cause that Jones committed a
Under section 316.073,
Florida Statutes (2001), a person on horseback is not subject to the provisions
regulating motor vehicles, but is subject to provisions applying to pedestrians.
The State argues that the police had probable cause that Jones violated section
316.2045(1), Florida Statutes (2001), which prohibits willfully obstructing
"the free, convenient, and normal use of any public street, highway, or
road by impeding, hindering, stifling, retarding, or restraining traffic or
passage thereon, by standing or approaching motor vehicles thereon, or by
endangering the safe movement of vehicles or pedestrians traveling
A violation of this statute
requires either (1) impeding, hindering, stifling, or restraining traffic or
passage or (2) endangering the safe movement of vehicles or pedestrians.
See Underwood v. State, 801 So.2d 200, 202 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001) (holding that
an officer lacked probable cause to stop the defendant for obstruction of
traffic because there was no evidence that the defendant actually hindered or
endangered the normal use of the street or had the intent to do so). In this
case, the trial court expressly found that there was no evidence that Jones
endangered others, and this finding is supported by Deputy Todd's testimony to
that effect. In addition, there is no evidence that Jones actually impeded any
traffic or passage. Accordingly, the police did not have probable cause to
believe that Jones had committed a traffic infraction.
Because the police did not
have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or probable cause that Jones
had committed a traffic infraction, the stop of Jones was illegal. Accordingly,
any evidence seized as a result of the illegal stop should have been suppressed.
Graham v. State, 60 So.2d 186, 188 (Fla.1952);
Bowling v. State, 779 So.2d 613, 614 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001).
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