Man arrested by DeSantis election police gets his case dismissed

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One of the 20 people arrested by Florida election police this summer had his charges dismissed Friday, in the first case resolved since Gov. Ron DeSantis launched his aggressive voter fraud initiative.

Robert Lee Wood was arrested on August 18 and charged with two counts of voter fraud because he had been convicted of a felony in 1990 and did not have his rights restored before he voted. On Friday, a Miami judge dismissed the case, ruling that the statewide prosecutor lacked jurisdiction.

The governor has said he will appeal.

In recent months, DeSantis (R) has vowed to scrutinize who can vote. Earlier this year, Florida’s GOP-led legislature created an Office of Election Crimes and Security at the governor’s request.

DeSantis said the office would help prevent illegal voting, although few cases of voter fraud were prosecuted before this summer. Critics have warned that the governor and his electoral police unit could weaponize their new powers for political gain.

At a news conference in August, DeSantis announced the office’s first arrests — mostly black men who had recently voted. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. All those arrested had previously been convicted of murder or a crime of sexual offences. In 2018, Florida voters approved an amendment that allows ex-felons to register to vote unless they were convicted of those crimes.

Many of the 20 arrested in the Aug. 18 raid said they believed they were eligible to vote and were encouraged to register by local officials. Their registrations were approved by the state elections department and they were issued voter identification numbers and cards by county election supervisors.

“The state approved his voter registration and issued him a voter identification card,” Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael Gottlieb wrote this month in a motion to dismiss another case related to the voter fraud charges. “He voted under the authority given to him by the government and now that same body is seeking to imprison him for the very action they authorized and encouraged him to take.”

Body camera videos released this week from police officers who made some of the arrests — which took place in five counties over just a few hours on the morning of DeSantis’ August news conference — show confusion and concern among those arrested as well as among some of the officers.

Gottlieb, who worked on Woods’ case and also represents another man arrested the same day, said that while the state may appeal the ruling by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch, the dismissal is a good sign.

“I’m definitely going to use this as wind in my sails,” Gottlieb said.

DeSanti’s press secretary Bryan Griffin said the state will continue to pursue cases with its election integrity office.

“The state will continue to enforce the law and ensure that murderers and rapists who are not allowed to vote do not do so illegally,” he said. “Florida will not be a state where elections are left vulnerable or cheaters unaccountable.”

Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, cheered the dismissal of the case against Wood.

“This reinforces our resolve to continue to put people above politics and honor the commitment we have made to the 1.4 million people affected by Amendment 4 who should enjoy the opportunity to fully participate in our democracy, Volz said in a statement.

Larry Davis, an attorney for Woods, said his client was “very happy and relieved” the charges were dismissed.

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