Attorneys worry about chilling effect on speech

Mitch Stone, president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, responded to the recent proposal on regulating protests under the guise of preventing rioting, looting and disorder.

“The proposal by Gov. Ron DeSantis is an attack on the Constitution and is aimed at silencing dissent. It is un-American because the proposed laws will effectively criminalize certain lawful protests,” Stone said. “The constitutions of the United States and Florida provide citizens the right to assemble and protest when government is not responding to the will of the people.”

Stone added, “No one advocates for violence or the destruction of property. Rioting, looting and violence are not constitutionally protected forms of protest.

“We understand the need for effective but reasonable law enforcement. However, this proposal goes too far and is not necessary.”

Stone pointed out that nonviolent protest will be affected if this proposal becomes law. Parading on streets, assembling at all hours, sit-ins, and other nondestructive activities can be interpreted as violating the laws contemplated by this proposal.

There are laws currently on the books that prohibit violence, the destruction of property and attacks on law-enforcement officers. 

According to Stone, to suggest that new laws are needed to enhance penalties because something occurs during a protest is a veiled attack on our constitutional rights. These newly proposed laws harken back to the 1770s when laws were enacted specifically to stamp out protests against the King of England, which led to the American Revolution.

If this proposal is enacted into law, it will deny basic fairness and due process to protesters by, in some instances, eliminating their right to bail. 

The proposal will also usurp power from local government in deciding how to budget for police. It will discourage government employees from engaging in any form of protest for fear that they could lose their employment benefits. In some cases, this proposal will effectively ban protest by scaring off those who fear being accused of crimes with increased criminal penalties — even if they have no intent to engage in violence or the destruction of property.

We have seen innocent people arrested for engaging in nonviolent protests over the past few months. The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers will stand for the rights of the accused and for the rights of all people to have their voices heard and against any laws enacted as a result of this un-American proposal.

Contact your legislators

House District 26 - Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff (R) 386-736-5187

House District 27 - Rep. Webster Barnaby (R) websterbarnaby@gmail.com

Senate District 7Sen. Travis Hutson (R) - 386-446-7610

Senate District 9 - Sen. Jason Brodeur (R) jason@jasonbrodeur.com

Senate District 14 - Sen. Tom Wright (R) 386-304-7630 

— Sopp is communications chairperson of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, based in Tallahassee. For more information, email tjsopp@crimlawyer.com