Crimes for Loitering and Prowling

Section 856.021, Florida Statutes, makes it unlawful for anyone to “loiter and prowl” in a manner, at a time, or in a place, or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals, under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of property or persons in the area.

The crime of prowling and loitering is charged as a second-degree misdemeanor which is punishable by up to sixty (60) days in jail or a $500 fine. In Hillsborough County, the Clerk of Court at the courthouse in Tampa, FL, will list the crime on the docket as follows:


Attorney for Loitering or Prowling Charges in Tampa, FL

If you were charged with the misdemeanor offense of loitering or prowling in Florida, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm.

Our main office is located in downtown Tampa. Our second office is located in New Port Richey, FL.

Contact us to discuss the charges pending against you, the facts of the case, and the best defenses to win the case on the merits. Call 813-250-0500.

Elements of Loitering and Prowling Charges

In order for the prosecutor with the State Attorney’s Office to prove the offense of Loitering or Prowling at trial, the following three elements must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant loitered or prowled in a place, at a time, or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals, and
  • The defendant’s behavior in loitering or prowling occurred under circumstances that warranted justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the accused’s vicinity.

Those elements are explained in Florida’s Standard Jury Instruction for crimes charged under Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Crim) 29.7.

For purposes of Florida’s statute prohibiting prowling or loitering, the term “alarm” or “immediate concern” has been defined to take into account whether the defendant did any of the following actions:

  • attempted to conceal himself or herself or any object he or she was carrying;
  • refused to identify himself or herself;
  • took flight upon seeing the police arrive.

Case Law on Loitering or Prowling Charges in Florida

In S.J. v. State, 50 So. 3d 102, 104 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010), the court determined that if the defendant took flight or concealed himself or an object he or she was carrying, then these actions will create a rebuttable presumption that the officer’s sense of “alarm” or “concern” was justified.

Defenses to the charge include a showing that the officers illegally detained the defendant and that all evidence that resulted from the illegal detention should be suppressed.

In State v. Ecker, 311 So. 2d 104, 107-10 (Fla. 1975), the court found that idleness or vagrancy would not empower the police to detain citizens to explain their unusual presence or status.

For an arrest on the charge, the investigating officer must have more than a vague suspicion about the accused’s presence. Hunter v. State, 32 So. 3d 170 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010).

Additional Resources

A Loitering and Prowling Primer – Visit the website of the Florida Bar to find a scholarly legal article on the crime of loitering and prowling under Florida Statute Section 856.021. The loitering and prowling primer written by Joseph D. Robinson was published in November of 1997 in Vol. 71, No. 10, on page 60.  The article explains the elements of the offense, challenges on constitutional grounds, and common factual scenarios. The article explains how the statute is “poorly worded” and the cases interpreting it are “somewhat comprehensible.”

This article was last updated on Thursday, May 5, 2022.