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OPINION

Defense attorneys oppose DeSantis' riot act

Special to the Star

The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers opposes 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. It solves no real crisis because current laws address the same concerns, without the attacks on due process and civil liberties.

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Chapter 870, Florida Statutes, already addresses the issues this proposed legislation covers. The proposed bill includes provisions that disqualify persons from post-incarceration reemployment assistance and working with any state or local government entity. It also includes mandatory minimum sentences, which fly in the face of the current movement in the criminal justice system away from mandatory sentencing.

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 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 statute is 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, and other concerns.

The proposed legislation serves no purpose in criminal responsibility, because Section 870 Florida Statute already criminalizes affrays, riots, unlawful assemblies and routs. 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.