In Florida, State Attorney Aramis Ayala has launched a program to reduce the amount of people prosecuted for non-violently resisting arrest.
On Tuesday, Ayala revealed a new policy that grants prosecutors more discretion in being able to drop resisting arrest charges, the Orlando Sentinel reports. At a news conference announcing the policy, Ayala said data showing Black people are disproportionately arrested on non-violent resisting charges was one of the leading factors driving her decision.
Last year, despite making up only 23 percent of the population in Florida’s Orange County, 63 percent of non-violent resisting arrest charges were filed against Black people.
“We have consistently heard that some members of law enforcement use this charge as a weapon when people don’t immediately respond to their commands, or if they ask too many questions before complying, or simply if they make an encounter more difficult for the officer,” Ayala told reporters.
Ayala also expressed concerns that these non-violent resisting arrest charges were being used to suppress the First Amendment rights of protesters, noting that the charge was filed against many of those arrested during recent protests against systemic racism and police brutality.
“In many cases, these peaceful protesters have been met by efforts to silence them and to crush their First Amendment rights to get them off the streets and out of the public view,” she said during the news conference.
According to CNN, the change comes only a few weeks after Florida’s perpetually confused-looking governor, Ron DeSantis, introduced a bill meant to crack down on protesters. The Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act would severely penalize protesters for blocking roadways, toppling monuments, and disrupting restaurants. Leave it to Ron DeSantis to weigh the safety of an Applebee’s above the lives of his constituents.
The governor’s proposal also includes a measure that would not hold drivers liable should a protester be killed or injured while they’re “fleeing for safety from a mob.”
So, it really should be called the “Shut The Fuck Up or We’ll Let You Die Act.”
Ayala’s proposal would also introduce a new diversionary program where those charged with resisting arrest can watch a video about the dangers of resisting and the potential legal penalties that come with it. Participants will only be able to take the program once every six months and once they complete it the charges will be erased from their record.
In Florida, a non-violent resisting charge is a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a maximum $1,000 fine.
From the Orlando Sentinel:
“Prosecuting these cases, which have little to no nexus to future criminality, both enables disproportionate policing and is also a poor investment of this office’s limited resources,” the policy states.
The policy notes that even a minor criminal charge can have a domino effect on the lives of the accused, forcing them to spend money on lawyers, miss work for court hearings, possibly lose their jobs and “end up saddled with unnecessary criminal records.”
“The destabilizing effect of these prosecutions has long-term negative consequences to these individuals, our community, and to public safety as a whole,” the policy states.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina said in a statement he didn’t feel law enforcement was properly informed of the policy shift.
“I understand and support the desire for criminal justice reform but these decisions should be thoughtful, and carefully considered by all members of the law enforcement community and their stakeholders,” he wrote. “I am extremely concerned this action will cause confusion in our community. People should know it is still a violation of the law to refuse to follow the instructions of law enforcement.”
Ayala’s policy will not prevent officers from making arrests on non-violent resisting charges. The state prosecutor provided the Sentinel with a copy of a letter she sent on Oct. 5 to all heads of law enforcement in the Ninth Judicial Circuit, informing them of the new policy.
“Please rest assured we will prioritize serious cases that warrant traditional prosecution,” Ayala wrote. “... I look forward to your support in our efforts to bridge gaps of trust between our community so that together we all can enjoy progress toward safer and more human interactions.”
Ayala told the Sentinel that Mina never replied to her letter.
While the proposal does give prosecutors more flexibility in dropping resisting charges, Ayala said that traditional prosecution will still be allowed for repeat offenders.
“We do lead with common sense,” Ayala told reporters. “If there are aggravating factors or an individual has resisted so many times that they create a public a public safety issue or somehow safety is compromised, assistant state attorneys can seek permission to proceed with traditional prosecution.”
Ayala is currently not seeking re-election for a second term and a new state attorney will be elected on Nov. 3.