Florida judge tosses gun possession cases now that permitless carry is in effect

Florida judge tosses gun possession cases now that permitless carry is in effect
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File

On July 1st, it became legal in Florida for lawful gun owners to carry a concealed firearm without the need for a government permission slip. While the start of permitless carry hasn’t led to the state devolving into the Wild West or an anarchic dystopia, it has left courts around the state wrestling with what to do about those individuals who were arrested and charged with carrying without a license before the new law took effect.

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On Tuesday, an Orange County courtroom was the setting for both a judge and prosecutors to throw out more than a half-dozen cases, though not every defendant is in the clear.

In a rapid-fire hearing Tuesday, an Orange County judge dismissed five cases of people charged with illegally carrying a concealed firearm that began before Florida’s new permit-less carry law took effect, while prosecutors opted to drop charges against two others.

The seven total decisions were made in a nine-minute span, with prosecutors and defense attorneys mostly referring to written arguments and saying little out loud.

Judge Mark Blechman did not give a reasoning when announcing his decision, but the few questions he asked suggested he was following the guidelines set out by the new law.

So far, attorneys said Orange County’s court system has acted similarly to a roulette wheel, with attorneys getting different outcomes in each court room they argue in.

“I have about five pending right now with motions in various divisions,” Kathleen Gillard, whose client was among Blechman’s dismissals, said. “One judge still has it under advisement. I had watched a hearing last week where another judge granted somebody’s motion.”

Many attorneys have not yet asked their judges to dismiss their cases. Attorney Roger Weeden speculated it was because they were waiting to see how the early rulings would go. It’s estimated that there are hundreds of charges pending in various stages of the court system in Orange and Osceola counties alone.

Weeden said he himself had a half dozen cases he was working to offload, and hoped Tuesday would begin a domino chain.

“The judges are all going to be mindful of what the other judges are doing,” he explained.

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Though prosecutors dropped the charge of carrying without a permit in two cases, both defendants are still facing charges for more serious crimes, according to State Attorney Monique Worrell.

The action by Judge Blechman seems like the most appropriate course to take. If the actions of those defendants were against the law when they were arrested, but the law now allows them to legally carry, what benefit is served by bringing them to trial or even offering them a plea deal in exchange for admitting guilt? The criminal justice system in this country is plagued with inefficiency and an over-reliance on plea bargains as it is, and clogging up courtrooms with non-violent, possessory carry cases that are no longer a crime is a terrible use of taxpayer dollars and the finite resources of prosecutors, public defenders, and the judiciary, not to mention a nightmare when it comes to protecting civil rights.

It’s unclear how many of the “hundreds” of outstanding cases around the state are purely possessory in nature, but there’s no reason why judges and/or prosecutors can’t dismiss the charges of carrying without a license while keeping any underlying charges in place. Florida’s criminal justice system, like its legislature, should be focused on delivering consequences for crimes of violence, not fueling infringements on our fundamental right to bear arms that have since been wiped off the books.

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