Florida Man Arrested & Charged With Crime for Testifying
The Florida man who was arrested and sent to jail for simply speaking his mind at a city council meeting has captured news headlines, particularly as the U.S. Supreme Court hears his case on February 27th. The case will have implications for everyone regarding First Amendment protections of free speech.
The case started in 2006, when the man (Fane Lozman) vocally criticized the Riviera Beach City Council during the public comment portion of an open meeting. Council Chairperson Wade then summoned the police officer on duty and told Lozman to leave or be arrested, at which point Lozman was handcuffed, charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, and taken to a holding cell.
Free Speech versus Disturbing Lawful Assembly
Although the charges were ultimately dropped, Lozman sued the city, alleging retaliation. The jury sided with the city, and a federal appeals court upheld the verdict, finding that there was probable cause to find that Lozman was either in the act of disturbing or intended to disturb lawful assembly under Florida law, which is a second-degree misdemeanor.
Lozman counters that all he was doing was exercising his free speech rights, whereas actual disorderly conduct involves going beyond your time to speak, using profanity or harassing in other ways. Lozman argues that city council actually objected to the content of his speech.
The decision in this case will have significant implications: Lozman losing could mean that government entities would have broad discretion to charge individuals with misdemeanors in order to interrupt their speech and their public comments. In addition, more than two dozen media organizations have filed an amicus brief in the case, pointing out similar issues they have experienced with stifled free speech.
What about False Arrest?
The city has countered that it—and other municipalities—similarly face dangerous repercussions if the case is not found in their favor; specifically, that Lozman successfully suing them for false arrest could open up Pandora’s box of expensive litigation for municipalities in general. They have also argued that law enforcement needs broad authority to make arrests like these in case individuals who appear to be exercising free speech are using this as a front to commit a terrorist activity. A decision in the case is expected by summer.
Florida and Massachusetts Criminal Defense against Disorderly Conduct Charges
An individual being arrested for disorderly conduct for simply testifying at a city council meeting is abhorrent. The charge of disturbing lawful assembly is reserved for individuals who disturb any school or religious assembly, and disorderly conduct is reserved for serious circumstances, where Florida’s public decency or public morals laws are violated.
Contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Baez Law Firm today if you have been the victim of an abuse of power.