It’s Not Detainment, It’s Just Illegal to Leave

This recent Florida court decision has left me confused about the definition of detainment:

Motorists can be held indefinitely at toll booths if they pay with large denomination bills, according to a federal appeals court ruling handed down Wednesday. A family of drivers — Joel, Deborah and Robert Chandler — filed suit last year arguing they were effectively being held hostage by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the private contractor in charge of the state’s toll road, Faneuil, Inc.

Under FDOT policies in place at the time, motorists who paid with $50 bills, and occasionally even $5 bills, were not given permission to proceed until the toll collector filled out a “Bill Detection Report” with data about the motorist’s vehicle and details from his driver’s license. Many of those who chose to pay cash did so to avoid the privacy implications of installing a SunPass transponder that recorded their driving habits. They were likewise unwilling to provide personal information to the toll collector, but they had no alternative because the toll barrier would not be raised without compliance. FDOT policy does not allow passengers to exit their vehicle, and backing up is illegal and usually impossible while other cars wait behind. FDOT dropped the Bill Detection Reports in 2010.


“The fact that a person is not free to leave on his own terms at a given moment, however, does not, by itself, mean that the person has been ‘seized’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment,” the court wrote in its unsigned decision. “In Florida, a person’s right and liberty to use a highway is not absolute; it may be regulated in the public interest through reasonable and reasonably executed regulations.”

So you can’t move forward until you comply with the “Bill Detection Report”, you can’t leave your vehicle, and you can’t reverse and escape the situation but you’re not being detained? Interesting. So if I setup a roadblock on my lock street, demand drivers get out and perform a little jig before being allowed to proceed, and hold them at gunpoint until they comply I’m not detaining them?

One can argue that the Florida highway department can enforce whatever regulations they want but without an option of leaving you are effectively detained.