During the last few years, the United States has seen a spread of civil unrest not seen since the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam Protests in the 1960s. Although most civil unrest movements started as civil protests, many quickly evolved into violent mobs or riots throughout many cities. In an attempt to be pro-active, Florida recently passed an “Anti-Riot” Bill, which Florida Governor Ron DeSantis quickly signed. In this article, we will discuss what the bill is and try to explain the impact it may have.

Combatting Public Disorder Act

The Combatting Public Disorder Act is otherwise known as the Florida “Anti-Riot” law. The bill aimed to create new criminal offenses to prevent rioting, looting, and violence along with new or additional criminal penalties.

How Does the New Law Define a Riot?

The “Anti-Riot” act defines a riot when a protest meets the following components:

  • A public assembly of three or more people that have turned violent
  • Where the individuals engaged with an intent to commit or help others commit a violent act
  • That causes damages to property or bodily injury to others.

Additionally, the law created a new criminal offense called “aggravated rioting”. An aggravated riot is when the elements of a “riot” listed above are present combined with one of the following:

  • The riot had twenty-five or more participants
  • Causes bodily harm to an innocent bystander
  • Property damage is over $5000
  • Weapons were present
  • Obstruction of traffic

What are the Increased Punishments?

Under The Combatting Public Disorder Act, anyone arrested at a riot will have their charges enhanced by one level. For example, a crime that might be a third-degree felony will now face a second-degree felony charge. Furthermore, a person cannot post bail until after an first appearance hearing.

What Are New Punishments?

The Combatting Public Disorder Act now makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for three or more people to harass innocent bystanders. For example, in the many viral videos of protestors harassing innocent diners at restaurants, the state can fine protestors up to $1,000 and place them in jail for up to a year under Florida’s new law.

The law has also created a six-month minimum punishment of jail if a person commits battery on a police officer during a demonstration that rises to the level of a riot under the new law.

Lastly, the law now makes it a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, if anyone damages or vandalizes a monument.

Concerns About the Law

The primary concern about the law is that it may be overreaching and, in places, unconstitutional limits on peoples’ First Amendment Right of assembly and free speech. It also seems to punish anyone who might attend a protest or demonstration that ends up becoming violent, even if that person(s) do not involve themselves with the actual violence.

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If you, or a loved one, are facing criminal charges, contact Valrico Law Group for a criminal defense attorney. We will advocate on your behalf to make sure your rights are protected.