Florida Gov Suspends Prosecutor for Refusing to Criminalize Abortion

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has suspended Andrew H. Warren, the elected state attorney of Hillsborough County and the top prosecutor in Tampa, accusing him of incompetence and neglect of duty for vowing not to prosecute those who seek or provide abortions, reports the New York Times. Warren was among 90 elected prosecutors across the country who in June vowed not to prosecute those who seek or provide abortions.

Law enforcement officials who appeared with DeSantis expressed frustration with Warren for not prosecuting certain crimes. Under Florida law, a governor can suspend state officials for wrongdoing that includes neglect of duty, incompetence, malfeasance, drunkenness or commission of a felony.

DeSantis is up for re-election in November and has faced growing criticism from Democrats that his approach to governing has become increasingly authoritarian.

Miriam Krinsky, the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, called Warren’s suspension “an unprecedented and dangerous intrusion on the separation of powers and the will of the voters.”

Additional Reading: How Some Prosecutors Changed the Face of Justice in 2021, The Crime Report, Dec. 7, 2021

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August 5, 2022 at 09:34AM

Florida Pastor Charged in U.S. Capitol Siege After One of His Own Followers Ratted Him Out

Florida pastor James Varnell Cusick Jr. and his son Casey Cusick are facing charges in connection with the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol Complex — all because a member of Cusick’s church told federal agents he was inside the Capitol with his pastor.

When the authorities interviewed David John Lesperance at his home in Florida after identifying him as one of the people present at the capitol, Lesperance admitted that he was in Washington, D.C. from Jan. 5 to Jan. 8 and that he and his pastor were “present at President Trump’s speech and then at the U.S. Capitol afterwards,” according to an FBI affidavit.

Lesperance also admitted that “they” had entered the Capitol, but he initially refused give an exact name as to who “they” were.  He simply indicated that the term included his pastor.

Investigators were able to make the connection to the Cusicks in a few ways.

The FBI first connected Lesperance to James Cusick Jr. through social media. Cusick Jr. is the founder and pastor of a church in Melbourne, Fla., some seven miles from where Lesperance lives, and officials found a picture on the church’s Instagram page that included both James Cusick and Lesperance.

David John Lesperance (center) and James Varnell Cusick Jr. (right).

The FBI, with information obtained from search warrants of the mens’ cell phone history, also determined that the Cusicks and Lesperance were inside the Capitol building at the same time.

During his interview with the FBI, Lesperance admitted that he deleted pictures and videos he had taken while inside the Capitol “out of fear of negative repercussions,” but escape from those repercussions turned out to be difficult:  federal officials searched Lesperance’s iCloud account.  It included pictures of Casey Cusick before and after the siege; he was wearing the same clothes he was seen wearing on the Capitol’s closed-circuit TV system and on police bodycam footage.

Casey Cusick (Left) and James Varnell Cusick, Jr. (Right) are seen in two versions of the same image embedded in various court documents on file in the two men’s cases.

Additional photos found in Lesperance’s iCloud account also placed the Cusicks inside the Capitol building.

An anonymous tipster also sent a letter to the FBI with pictures and other evidence to show that Lesperance and the Cusicks had traveled from Florida to Washington and participated in the Capitol breach, according to the affidavits.

James Cusick, Jr. is the founder of Global Outreach Ministries, the Washington Post reported. His son, Casey, is listed on the church website as “event coordinator,” but according to the report, he is currently the church’s vice president. Lesperance is the owner of an air conditioner company in Florida, the Post said.

All three men are charged with unlawfully entering or remaining in a restricted building, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

FBI documents show that all three men were arrested Thursday, and all three made their initial court appearances that day. Lesperance was “released on conditions,” but it was not clear whether either of the Cusicks were released as well.

Read the arrest warrant affidavits for David Lesperance, James Cusick Jr., and Casey Cusick, below.

[images via federal court documents]

The post Florida Pastor Charged in U.S. Capitol Siege After One of His Own Followers Ratted Him Out first appeared on Law & Crime.

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June 25, 2021 at 07:41PM

Video Shows Florida Cops Saving 20-Year-Old Woman Who Had ‘Every Intention’ of Jumping Off of a Bridge onto I-95

Fort Pierce Police Department officers are being credited with saving a woman they said had “every intention” of jumping off of a bridge onto I-95.

Video, intentionally blurred to obscure the identity of the 20-year-old woman, shows that she appeared determined to take her own life on Tuesday. Just as the “distraught” woman swung her leg over a barrier and appeared intent on jumping, two police officers on scene stopped that from happening.

The department posted a video on Tuesday of Officers Hayden Willis and Casey Miklosh narrating the events as body camera footage played in the background.

Office Miklosh described the woman as “agitated.” He said that he observed what appeared to be “recent scarring” from cuts on her arms. Officers were called to the scene after someone reported seeing a person “praying” on the edge of the bridge.

Thanks to the quick efforts of Officer Willis and Miklosh, a woman’s life was saved today. The two were able to halt traffic on the I-95 near the Okeechobee overpass while stopping the woman from jumping into oncoming traffic. A big thank you goes out to Florida Highway Patrol and Saint Lucie County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance.

Posted by Fort Pierce Police Department on Tuesday, June 15, 2021

“When she got to the wall, she threw one leg over. I was able to run up and I grabbed her by her torso and her pants and I was able to pull her back over the wall,” Miklosh said.

“Thanks to the quick efforts of Officer Willis and Miklosh, a woman’s life was saved today,” the department posted on Facebook. “The two were able to halt traffic on the I-95 near the Okeechobee overpass while stopping the woman from jumping into oncoming traffic. A big thank you goes out to Florida Highway Patrol and Saint Lucie County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.

[Image via YouTube screengrab]

The post Video Shows Florida Cops Saving 20-Year-Old Woman Who Had ‘Every Intention’ of Jumping Off of a Bridge onto I-95 first appeared on Law & Crime.

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June 17, 2021 at 10:17AM

Florida Tourist Charged with Hate Crime, Told Asian Family to ‘Go Back Where They Came from’ After Kids Pet His Dogs: Sheriff

A Texas man on vacation in the Florida panhandle this week is facing a hate crime charge after he allegedly physically assaulted a family of Asian descent and used racist language, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) announced Friday.

According to the sheriff’s office, witnesses said that 54-year-old tourist Wade Anton told an Asian woman and her children to “go back where they came from” and uttered a racial slur during a verbal altercation that took place Thursday afternoon at Beasley Park on Okaloosa Island. A news release posted to the sheriff’s office official Facebook page said that Anton had been charged with “a hate crime related battery.”

OCSO News Release:
A Texas tourist who witnesses say made racial slurs towards another visitor at Beasley Park on…

Posted by Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office on Friday, June 11, 2021

Anton reportedly told sheriff’s office deputies that the altercation began because the woman’s children were petting his dog. According to this story, Anton said that he told the children to leave his dogs along but they ignored him. That’s when things escalated.

The woman’s husband told the sheriff’s office that Anton was approximately 25 feet away from his family when the verbal argument began, but then Anton “ran around the park railings and began punching [the husband] repeatedly.”

The woman’s husband also told deputies that as Anton was running towards him, he “pulled out a handgun to protect himself.”

The two men were then separated by witnesses without anyone sustaining any serious injuries.

The Okaloosa Department of Corrections told local ABC News-affiliate WEAR-TV that Anton was taken into custody and was being held on $10,000 bond as he awaited a preliminary hearing before a judge. Jail records show that Anton was released at 3:50 p.m. on Friday.

[image via Okaloosa Department of Corrections]

The post Florida Tourist Charged with Hate Crime, Told Asian Family to ‘Go Back Where They Came from’ After Kids Pet His Dogs: Sheriff first appeared on Law & Crime.

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June 12, 2021 at 12:48PM

Court Rejects Alleged Iguana-Killer’s “Stand Your Ground” Defense

A Florida man facing animal-cruelty charges says he was only defending himself from an iguana attack, but prosecutors say the video tells a different story. While the outcome remains to be seen, we know Nilaja Patterson won’t be able to use the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law on this particular set of facts, as the Sun-Sentinel (and CNN, and many others) reported yesterday.

Florida has several statutes defining when and against whom the use of force is justified, and “stand your ground” is mentioned in three of them. Fla. Stat. §§ 776.012, 776.013, 776.031. The basic rule is this:

A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.

Fla. Stat. § 776.012(2).

Under the common law, a person has a “duty to retreat,” or try to, before using deadly force unless the target of the force is (for example) trying to break into the person’s home. Because the Florida Legislature changed that rule in 2005, George Zimmerman was able to argue that he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense, even though Zimmerman wasn’t at home and made no effort to avoid the danger he allegedly believed was posed by an unarmed 17-year-old boy. (Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, but was acquitted.) More than a dozen other states have similar “stand your ground” laws.

These laws have been less controversial in iguana cases, probably because, so far as I can tell, there’s never been such a case. But Patterson’s attorneys invoked the defense here in a motion to dismiss. (Although most so-called “news outlets” have failed to provide the relevant documents, this so-called “news outlet” is doing so, which is possible because 15th Judicial Circuit (Palm Beach County) has a pretty good online system. Thank you, 15th Judicial Circuit.)

Let us begin with the probable-cause affidavit. It says that last September, Officer Patrick Prentice responded to a “report of a man seen beating an Iguana” (strange capitalization in original). Upon arriving, Officer Prentice found a three-foot green iguana at the scene, bleeding and unresponsive. He took it to be euthanized, but it died in transit. A necropsy confirmed the patient had died from blunt-force trauma, injuries that a veterinarian opined would have been “painful and terrifying” to the animal. Officer Prentice then reviewed surveillance video of the incident, which we’ll return to in a moment. The charges followed.

In the motion to dismiss, Patterson’s attorneys explained their client’s version of events. He says he was in the park “enjoying the afternoon in the company of friends” when he saw the iguana crossing the street. Concerned for its safety, he retrieved said iguana, after which he “gently set the iguana on the floor [sic] and let it be.” According to Patterson, a crowd then gathered to pet and gawk at the iguana, causing it to become “visibly agitated.” Again thinking of the animal’s well-being, Patterson sought to “calm it” and move it away from the crowd, only to have it ungratefully try to bite him. Yet he persevered, still concerned for the safety of all parties. Though he was eventually able to “briefly gain partial control of the wild animal,” it then bit him on the arm. Thereupon, “Patterson kicked the iguana as far as he could.” But that doesn’t seem to have been very far, or at least not far enough, and it is at this point the story shifts to the passive voice: “An altercation between the Patterson [sic] and the wild beast took place,” after which “[t]he wild beast was left incapacitated.” The Patterson subsequently “received 22 staples on his right arm” (passive voice being perfectly okay there).

The motion then argued Patterson was entitled to immunity under the “stand your ground” law because he was acting in justifiable self-defense when he kicked the iguana as far as he could, and in the altercation that then took place. He “acted in a reasonable manner under all the circumstances,” motivated by safety concerns. Though Patterson admittedly made the first move, “the wild iguana was first to engage with physical violence.” Only after being bitten did Patterson “use[ ] physical force to kick and push the wild beast as far as possible….” The motion doesn’t make entirely clear why the “altercation” took place. I assume Patterson claims the iguana re-engaged, but the motion seems to admit Patterson was the one who followed up: “[N]ot being an expert on the matter, Patterson believed that the iguana could have injected poison in him and thus he rushed to incapacitate the iguana the best way he could in order to preserve its antidote.” (Iguanas aren’t poisonous.) Regardless, because the iguana was first to engage, the motion argues, Patterson was entitled to kill it.

Interesting, the State responded, because the video (which I haven’t seen) is not entirely consistent with this tale. It shows that the iguana “was not bothering anyone,” and not trying to cross the road, until Patterson approached it. He then continued to “taunt and harass” it, causing it to try to “disengage.” Patterson then stepped on the animal’s tail to stop it so he could pick it up, and this is what prompted the bite. After this, the iguana did enter the roadway, but only because Patterson kicked it in that direction and it was trying to get away. Far from trying to save it, the video allegedly shows, Patterson spent most of the next six minutes abusing it, swinging it by its tail, flinging it down, and kicking it at least 17 times.

The video is therefore, the State argued, clear and convincing evidence that Patterson’s use of force was not justified. The iguana bit him only after he “encroached upon its personal space” and repeatedly badgered it. Interestingly, and maybe not surprisingly given the video, the State didn’t spend much time arguing about whether the “stand your ground” defense is even available to an accused iguana-killer. It did say it takes the position that the law “does not even apply to this case because the iguana is not a human being,” but said it would “entertain the motion” regardless. Analyzing the issue would’ve been more entertaining, so I’ll devote at least a couple of paragraphs to that.

It’s true that the statute doesn’t say anything about the target of the force, except for the part allowing deadly force “to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.” Animals can’t commit felonies, although interestingly the State made only the more limited argument that in this case, the iguana “was not attempting to murder or commit any felony upon the Defendant.” So it seems to be leaving the door open for cases involving iguanas with more sinister intent. But again, the rest of the statute doesn’t say anything about the target.

Still, it doesn’t make much sense to say that the deadly-force statute could apply to cases of iguana death, simply because it isn’t illegal to use deadly force against an iguana in Florida—it’s only illegal to do it in a cruel or inhumane manner. In fact, Florida arguably encourages people to kill green iguanas, which are considered an invasive species and can be killed, humanely, “year-round and without a permit or hunting license.” You don’t need an excuse to use deadly force against something it’s not illegal to kill.

Whether because of arguments like these or the video evidence, or both, the judge denied Patterson’s motion. His lawyers told CNN that they planned to “fight this case until the very end.” I’m sure that’s true, although if the video is as described, the “very end” may not be very far off.

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June 2, 2021 at 05:42PM

Florida Social Media Censorship Law Touted by Gov. DeSantis Is a ‘Frontal Assault on the First Amendment’: Lawsuit

A pair of online trade associations implored a federal judge to block a controversial Florida law that would penalize social media companies for “censoring” political candidates, calling the measure “patently unconstitutional” and a “frontal assault on the First Amendment.”

The complaint, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, asserts that S.B. 7072 infringes on the rights to freedom of speech, equal protection, and due process by compelling speech from a select group of private companies for their perceived political affiliations. Plaintiff tech trade groups, NetChoice LLC and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), further claims that the law is preempted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis began championing the bill as a way to hold “the Silicon Valley elites” accountable for “censorship and other tyrannical behavior” after Twitter and Facebook banned former President Donald Trump from their platforms for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.

But according to the lawsuit, and the vast majority of legal experts, the measure would impose financial penalties on companies for engaging in constitutionally protected conduct, such as moderating their online platforms and enforcing their companies’ terms of service.

“The Act discriminates against and infringes the First Amendment rights of these targeted companies, which include Plaintiffs’ members, by compelling them to host—and punishing them for taking virtually any action to remove or make less prominent—even highly objectionable or illegal content, no matter how much that content may conflict with their terms or policies,” the suit stated.

The complaint notes that, under the law, the platforms would be compelled to carry a “variety of harmful, offensive, or unlawful material” such as terrorist incitement, foreign propaganda, calls for genocide, and conspiracies concerning Holocaust denial, effectively robbing companies of “core editorial functions” protected by the Constitution.

“Rather than preventing what it calls ‘censorship,’ the Act does the exact opposite: it empowers government officials in Florida to police the protected editorial judgment of online businesses that the State disfavors and whose perceived political viewpoints it wishes to punish,” the complaint stated. “Although the Act uses scare terms such as ‘censoring,’ ‘shadow banning,’ and ‘deplatforming’ to describe the content choices of the targeted companies, it is in fact the Act that censors and infringes on the companies’ rights to free speech and expression; the Act that compels them to host speech and speakers they disagree with; and the Act that engages in unconstitutional speaker-based, content-based, and viewpoint-based preferences.”

As further evidence that Florida Republicans were motivated by political animus, the complaint highlighted that the law creates specific exceptions for online services owned by The Walt Disney Company and Universal Studios—which is owned by Comcast—“simply because they own well-attended ‘theme parks’ in Florida.”

“This undisguised singling out of disfavored companies reflects the Act’s true purpose, which its sponsors freely admitted: to target and punish popular online services for their perceived views and for certain content-moderation decisions that state officials opposed—in other words, to retaliate against these companies for exercising their First Amendment rights of ‘editorial discretion over speech and speakers on their property.’

Barring a court order halting enforcement, the law is set to take effect July 1.

Read the full lawsuit below.

[image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

The post Florida Social Media Censorship Law Touted by Gov. DeSantis Is a ‘Frontal Assault on the First Amendment’: Lawsuit first appeared on Law & Crime.

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May 27, 2021 at 05:47PM

Florida man arrested in road-rage shooting prompted by thrown banana

Police arrested a 34-year-old man on Wednesday, May 19, a day after a road-rage shooting incident that left another man with a leg injury.

According to the Pinellas Park Police Department, Robert Lewis and Peter Sala Jr. got into a verbal altercation while they were both driving south on U.S. Highway 19 on May 18.

Police said Sala drove past Lewis’s car and reportedly “threw what is believed to be a portion of a banana.” The banana hit the side of Lewis’s pickup truck.

Police said after the banana hit the truck, Lewis allegedly fired his handgun at Sala’s truck. The bullet shattered the passenger window, and “entered and lodged into the front passenger dashboard area.”

Sala suffered a “non-life-threatening laceration to his leg” from a piece of glass.

Police determined the shooting was a road rage incident.

Lewis met with detectives Wednesday morning, and was then charged with shooting a deadly missile into/at an occupied vehicle and criminal mischief. He was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on $12,000 bond. Jail records show he was later released.


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May 26, 2021 at 07:44PM

Florida makes it illegal for Facebook and Twitter to ban politicians

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis yesterday signed a bill into law to stop what he called the “censorship” of conservatives on social-media websites such as Twitter and Facebook. The law is likely to be challenged in court and has been described as blatantly unconstitutional by legal experts and advocacy groups across the political spectrum.

But Florida’s governor and legislature were undeterred by the possibility that courts will strike down the law as violating the First Amendment. The law gives Floridians the right to sue Big Tech companies over content-moderation decisions and prohibits the companies from “deplatforming” political candidates and journalistic enterprises. It is scheduled to take effect on July 1.

“This session, we took action to ensure that ‘We the People’—real Floridians across the Sunshine State—are guaranteed protection against the Silicon Valley elites,” DeSantis, who has a Harvard University law degree, said in a press release. “Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela. If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable.” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said the law is important because many Floridians “know the dangers of being silenced or have been silenced themselves under communist rule.”

The new law (full text) carves out an exception for tech companies that happen to also own theme parks. That would exempt both Disney and Comcast, the latter of which owns NBCUniversal including Universal Theme Parks. Specifically, the law exempts “any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex as defined in [Florida law].” To qualify for the exemption, the company’s theme park or entertainment complex must be “comprised of at least 25 contiguous acres,” provide “permanent exhibitions and a variety of recreational activities,” and have “a minimum of 1 million visitors annually.”

While the governor’s announcement didn’t explain the theme-park exemption, it said that “Floridians treated unfairly by Big Tech platforms will have the right to sue companies that violate this law—and win monetary damages. This reform safeguards the rights of every Floridian by requiring social-media companies to be transparent about their content moderation practices and give users proper notice of changes to those policies, which prevents Big Tech bureaucrats from ‘moving the goalposts’ to silence viewpoints they don’t like.”

Additionally, the Florida attorney general “can bring action against technology companies that violate this law, under Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.” Companies that violate the law “will be restricted from contracting with any public entity.”

Ban on banning politicians

The prohibition on kicking politicians off social media platforms allows the Florida Election Commission to “impose fines of $250,000 per day on any social media company that deplatforms any candidate for statewide office, and $25,000 per day for deplatforming candidates for non-statewide offices.”

The law says that “[a] social media platform may not willfully deplatform a candidate for office who is known by the social media platform to be a candidate” and that the “platform must provide each user a method by which the user may be identified as a qualified candidate.” Deplatform is defined as “the action or practice by a social media platform to permanently delete or ban a user or to temporarily delete or ban a user from the social media platform for more than 14 days.”

DeSantis objected to the banning of then-President Donald Trump, who was kicked off Twitter and Facebook for inciting violence. “Any Floridian can block any candidate they don’t want to hear from, and that is a right that belongs to each citizen—it’s not for Big Tech companies to decide,” the governor’s announcement said.

US Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) blasted Florida’s leaders in a statement yesterday. “Following Donald Trump’s lead, Republican-led states are determined to pass laws to force websites and apps to host lies, misinformation and other slime, with full knowledge that those laws are unconstitutional,” Wyden said. “The latest such example out of Florida—which compels online sites to host the speech of politicians—is particularly egregious, and an invitation for extremists, racists and liars to register as political candidates just to keep their posts online.”

While numerous experts believe the Florida law will eventually be struck down, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently argued that social media platforms could be regulated as “common carriers.”

Defining censorship

Nuñez claimed that there has been “an effort to silence, intimidate, and wipe out dissenting voices by the leftist media and big corporations. Today, by signing SB 7072 into law, Florida is taking back the virtual public square as a place where information and ideas can flow freely. Many of our constituents know the dangers of being silenced or have been silenced themselves under communist rule. Thankfully in Florida we have a governor that fights against big tech oligarchs that contrive, manipulate, and censor if you voice views that run contrary to their radical leftist narrative.”

The law requires social media platforms to “publish the standards, including detailed definitions, it uses or has used for determining how to censor, deplatform, and shadow ban” and to “apply censorship, deplatforming, and shadow banning standards in a consistent manner among its users on the platform.” It also says the platforms “may not take any action to censor, deplatform, or shadow ban a journalistic enterprise based on the content of its publication or broadcast,” unless the content is “obscene.”

The law defines censorship as “any action taken by a social media platform to delete, regulate, restrict, edit, alter, inhibit the publication or republication of, suspend a right to post, remove, or post an addendum to any content or material posted by a user,” and “actions to inhibit the ability of a user to be viewable by or to interact with another user of the social media platform.” Shadow banning is defined as actions “to limit or eliminate the exposure of a user or content or material posted by a user to other users of the social media platform.”

Supreme Court precedent may doom Florida law

Experts who say the new law is unconstitutional cite a previous case in which a similar Florida law was struck down. After DeSantis announced the proposal in February, First Amendment attorney Ari Cohn told Law & Crime that it “raises the same issue as a previous Florida law which required newspapers that criticized a political candidate to publish that candidate’s response.” In the 1974 case, Miami Herald v. Tornillo, “the Supreme Court struck down the law, ruling that it violated the newspapers’ First Amendment right to choose which content to run or not run,” Cohn said. That case involved a law enacted in 1913.

The Law & Crime article continued:

Professor Daxton “Chip” Stewart, a media law expert who referred to the proposal as “hilariously unconstitutional,” said that DeSantis exhibited a fundamental misunderstanding of corporations’ rights.

“Basically, DeSantis seems to forget that private companies like Facebook and Twitter have First Amendment rights, too,” Stewart noted. “The government can’t force them to host speech they don’t want to, or threaten punishment like these absurd fines for refusing to give platforms to people they find intolerable. Just as a platform can remove accounts of terrorists or the KKK or a cabal that conspires to violently overthrow the government, they can remove accounts of any other individual.”

EFF and TechFreedom agree

The Electronic Frontier Foundation cited the same case. “Since Tornillo, courts have consistently applied it as binding precedent, including applying Tornillo to social media and Internet search engines, the very targets of the [Florida] Transparency in Technology Act (unless they own a theme park),” EFF General Counsel Kurt Opsahl wrote earlier this month. “Indeed, the compelled speech doctrine has even been used to strike down other attempts to counter perceived censorship of conservative speakers.”

On the Lawfare blog in March, TechFreedom Internet Policy Counsel Corbin Barthold and President Berin Szóka also pointed to the Miami Herald v. Tornillo case as an example of why the new law won’t pass constitutional muster. The Supreme Court “has repeatedly held that digital media enjoy the same First Amendment protection as traditional media,” they wrote.

“Only once has the Supreme Court upheld a ‘fairness’ or ‘equal time’ mandate on privately owned media. But that was a special case,” they wrote. “In 1969, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC upheld the Federal Communication Commission’s Fairness Doctrine only because broadcast frequencies are scarce, they are owned by the public, and the government licenses their use—clear ‘state action.'”

DeSantis’ argument that Big Tech companies are monopolistic is similar to an argument rejected in the 1974 case, they wrote. “The plaintiff in Miami Herald made a similar argument—and, indeed, many local markets really did have only a single newspaper,” Barthold and Szóka wrote. “Yet the court ruled that no degree of monopoly power could diminish the First Amendment’s protection of newspapers’ editorial discretion.”

Section 230 also protects websites

Wyden pointed out that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is also relevant. That US law gives legal immunity to online platforms that block or modify content posted by users.

“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution—backstopped by Section 230—makes it abundantly clear that states have no power to compel private companies to host speech, especially from politicians,” Wyden said. “People eager to chip away at core First Amendment protections for speech must remember that the consequences won’t just impact content they dislike—they’ll apply to everything. Government control of speech on, or off-line, will inevitably be abused by those in power, as made crystal clear by Republican state legislatures at home, and governments abroad like India and China that are already censoring critics.”

via Ars Technica https://arstechnica.com

May 25, 2021 at 02:56PM

In Florida, Anything Can Be A Weapon

MAY 24–A Florida Woman battered her boyfriend with “soiled dog pads” during a late-night confrontation that also included the victim getting sprayed in the face with Windex, according to police.

Investigators say that Ann Walsh, 60, attacked her 64-year-old beau inside the couple’s Clearwater apartment Thursday evening. Walsh, seen at right, was arrested for domestic battery and booked into the county jail, where she remains locked up in lieu of $5000 bond.

As detailed in an arrest affidavit, Walsh engaged in a “physical altercation” with the victim while he sat on their couch. The retiree, cops allege, “took soiled dog pads and threw them at the victim.”

During a post-arrest interview, Walsh reportedly copped to also spraying her boyfriend in the face with Windex.

A judge has ordered Walsh to have no contact with the victim, who apparently was not injured during the dog pad incident.

Walsh’s rap sheet includes several prior domestic battery arrests, all of which involve the man identified as the victim in the alleged May 20 attack. Walsh, however, was not convicted in any of the earlier cases. (1 page)

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May 24, 2021 at 12:23PM

Florida woman, nearly naked, leads cops on high-speed chase in stolen car

Florida woman wearing almost no clothing was arrested Saturday after leading troopers on a high-speed chase through several counties in a stolen car, authorities said.

Troopers were alerted around 10 a.m. Saturday that the stolen 2009 Cadillac sedan was seen traveling on I-75 in Sumter County, the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) said.


The stolen car was located on the interstate in Hernando County, where troopers attempted a traffic stop.

Rachael Lynn Stefancich, 24, was nearly naked when she was arrested following a high-speed chase on Saturday, troopers said.

Rachael Lynn Stefancich, 24, was nearly naked when she was arrested following a high-speed chase on Saturday, troopers said. (Hernando County Detention Center )

But the vehicle instead sped away, reaching speeds of 110 mph while changing lanes and using the roadway shoulder to pass other cars. Troopers pulled up next to the vehicle in an attempt to persuade the driver to exit the interstate, according to an arrest report.

Eventually, the driver exited the interstate onto State Road 52 in Pasco County, where troopers used a PIT maneuver to disable the vehicle.

Troopers used a PIT maneuver to disable the vehicle.

Troopers used a PIT maneuver to disable the vehicle. (Florida Highway Patrol)

Troopers removed the driver, identified as 24-year-old Rachael Lynn Stefancich, from the vehicle and took her into custody. The FHP said that Stefancich was found “nearly fully unclothed” when she was arrested.

Troopers said that Stefancich was driving with a suspended license and found what was believed to be drugs and drug paraphernalia inside the vehicle.

Troopers said that Stefancich was driving with a suspended license and found what was believed to be drugs and drug paraphernalia inside the vehicle. (Florida Highway Patrol)


Troopers found a glass pipe used for smoking methamphetamine and a substance believed to be meth inside the car, the arrest report said. They also learned that Stefancich’s license had been suspended.

She claimed that the car was her aunt’s and she was allowed to drive it.

Stefancich was charged with grand theft auto, reckless driving, fleeing and eluding, possession of methamphetamine and driving with a suspended license.