Florida Statute section 856.021(1) makes it a second-degree misdemeanor for anybody to be engaged in "loitering or prowling."
Loitering or prowling can be defined as being in a place at a time or manner not usual for law-abiding citizens, under circumstances that warrant an alarm for the safety of nearby persons or property.
It sounds vague, and unfortunately, many officers use this offense as a "catch all" when they can't seem to come up with a better charge.
Officers must give you an opportunity to dispel their concern when you are suspected of loitering or prowling. That means that the cop will allow you to explain to him or her why you are in the place you are in and why you are doing what you are doing. Of course, you have a constitutional right not to say anything at all, but under these circumstances, that will likely result in an arrest.
An examples of loitering and prowling may be wandering through a parking lot at night, looking into cars.
Loitering and prowling offenses can be dealt with by physical arrest or the issuance of a promise to appear (PTA).
Loitering and prowling is punishable by up to 60 days in jail.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward.