Defense lawyers say proposed bill is attack on the First Amendment and the right to assemble

The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers informed local Historic City News reporters that they oppose legislation urged by Gov. Ron DeSantis addressing “affrays, riots, routs, and unlawful assemblies” as a too broad an attack on the First Amendment and the right to assemble. The proposed legislation is a solution in search of a problem, the Association said.

The proposed bill includes provisions that disqualify persons from post-incarceration reemployment assistance and working with any state or local government entity.  This bill also includes mandatory minimum sentences, which fly in the face of the current movement in the criminal justice system away from mandatory sentencing.

“The statute would be unconstitutional in many facets, including the right to assemble, the right to freedom of speech, the right of local governments to determine their own budgets, the denial of due process because of vague and overly broad provisions,” said Becky Barlow, Executive Director.

The proposed bill also requires local municipalities to report to any state agency from which they receive funds a certification that there has not been a reduction in any police funding.  The proposed bill also inexplicably permits “victims of crimes defined in Chapter 870” to recover civil damages from a local government that resulted from gross negligence of that government in policing a riot or violent or disorderly assembly.

The proposed legislation serves no purpose in criminal responsibility, because Chapter 870, Florida Statutes, already criminalizes affrays, riots, unlawful assemblies, and routs, without the attacks on due process and civil liberties, according to Barlow.  

The Association concluded that this statute is unnecessary, overly complicated and will raise legal challenges that will require courts to decide for years to come. In that respect, the legislation will create unnecessary litigation when the current laws have already been upheld as constitutional.

The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers urges legislators to vote against this bill.