In the recent case of James Johns, III v. State of Florida, the Second District explains the basics of 4th Amendment “Terry stops” while also illuminating the techniques that Florida police use to catch drug shipments sent via UPS (and presumably other carriers).
The court sets the scene this way: “[a] mysterious parcel package was intercepted while en route to be delivered. It contained approximately ten pounds of marijuana. Someone sent the package. Someone was presumably going to pick it up.”
More specifically, we learn that a “detective monitoring shipments in a UPS facility” came across a package from “The Party Animal” to “Raymond Maven” (fake name). Apparently, on those two facts alone, the detective obtained a search warrant and found pot in heat-sealed bags. It is unclear what other investigation was performed to obtain the warrant but the implication was that the moniker “Party Animal” drew suspicion as well as addressing it to a name of someone who is not typically associated with the recipient address.
Watching the address, police dressed as UPS delivery persons tried to deliver the package. Despite being home, the occupants did not answer the door but, after the fake delivery person declined to leave the package, someone came out to look around.
A “Mr. Mason” came to the residence, spoke in the driveway with the occupants, spoke on his cell phone while pacing, and then left. He returned later, in a different car, with the Defendant, Mr. Johns. The change of cars was an important factor for law enforcement. Per the court:
“[police suspicion was aroused because the defendant] arrive at the duplex in ‘a recently switched out car,’ which the testifying detectives indicated was a ‘known drug dealer counter surveillance measure’ and that working in tandem in twos was ‘not unusual for drug dealers that are surveilling a drug drop location.'”
According to police testimony:
“[i]t is not uncommon for someone to arrive prior to the package arriving and position themselves in a place where they can monitor where the drop is.”
The court continued:
“[The officer] further opined that his observations of Mr. Mason earlier that day in the driveway—pacing back and forth, looking around the area, conversing on a cell phone—as well as Mr. Mason’s arrival at a drop-off point in a different vehicle were actions consistent with a drug dealer awaiting the arrival of a delivery of illegal drugs.”
Ultimately, the court concluded that police had conducted a “Terry stop” without a reasonable suspicion and, at most, any suspicious activity by Mr. Mason (who arrived first / alone) could not supply a reasonable suspicion to the Defendant, who arrived later. Being at the scene of suspicious criminal activity, alone, was not enough. Despite being found with weapons and drugs (including “shake,” which the court conveniently defined as “loose marijuana leaves”), Mr. Johns won reversal of his conviction.
Image credit: livescience.com