Florida Officer Charged Under State's Anti-Mask Law

Last week, the Sun Sentinel reported a rare arrest under the Florida's anti-mask law. On November 22, a fifteen-year Florida police officer was protesting the new healthcare law by standing on a University Drive sidewalk, carrying an inverted American flag on a pole, and wearing a black cape and Guy Fawkes mask. He refused multiple requests from police officers to identify himself and to remove his mask. He was arrested and charged with wearing a hood or mask on a street and for obstructing traffic.

This anti-mask law, created back in 1951, was initially launched to combat the Ku Klux Klan. Since 2010, the Broward State Attorney's Office reported only ten other people being arrested for a violation of this law. Only four of these charges were prosecuted, and one of them included a burglary charge. The Palm Beach State Attorney's Office has no record of recent arrests over this law, but between 2007 and 2010, there were 13 such arrests. Prosecutors only pursued six of those charges.

According to some legal experts, this arrest goes against the true purpose of the law, and using it to stop a peaceful protest makes for an "illegal arrest". The public defender in Broward has said that this law was not meant to "prevent anonymous protest; it was to prevent the anonymous commission of crimes". He described this protest as protected under the First Amendment. He further cited the Florida Supreme Court's 1981 ruling that this anti-mask law was not constitutional. At that point, further statutes were added to the anti-mask law so that it would only apply when it was involved in threatening or criminal actions.

In fact, in 2008, one Florida lawyer was able to get a charge of wearing a mask dismissed because it was deemed unconstitutional. On the other hand, a spokesperson for the police said that the arrest was justified, because the man hid his identity from police in spite of the officer's requests. It is still too soon to determine whether or not the charges in this particular case will stick. While this anti-mask law is not exactly a common issue for Florida courts, the debate about whether or not rights are at stake in a case can be.

We at Thomas & Paulk, P.A. are fiercely dedicated to ensuring that our clients' every right is fully protected. We also understand that your future could be at stake; one of the most damaging consequences of a conviction is carrying a criminal record. With the rest of your life on the line, you can rely on our legal team, which has a proven history of getting charges reduced or dismissed. No matter how serious or complex the charge, you can find the legal representation you need when you contact our firm today!