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Public Defender's Office Wins Challenge to Miami Beach Ordinance

MIAMI (December 1). With the clash between governmental powers and individual rights so much in the news, a county court judge has sided with the Public Defender's Office in striking down a Miami Beach ordinance that prohibited street performances without a license.

The Public Defender's Office had challenged the ordinance on the basis of its overly broad restrictions on an individual’s First Amendment right to sing, play a musical instrument, dance, photograph, sketch, create or display art on public property – long a favored and protected venue for freedom of expression – without first obtaining a permit from the city.

Judge Mary Jo Francis declared the ordinance unconstitutional in dismissing charges against Miami Beach resident Ron Odaniels. Odaniels had been arrested for playing his guitar while sitting on a park bench on Ocean Drive without the required city license. The charges carried possible penalties of $500 in fines and 60 days in jail.

The ordinance, Judge Francis said, disregarded constitutional limits.

"It is unconstitutional because it does not avoid censorship, it provides for unbridled discretion on the part of police officers to determine possible violations of the ordinance, and because it fails to give ample notice of the conduct proscribed," she said in her 29-page order.

Judge Francis noted that, by criminalizing innocent activity, the ordinance could potentially "create prohibitions that completely lack any reasonable relationship to its objectives."
Public Defender Bennett H. Brummer said: "The danger in an ordinance such as this is its failure to adequately inform people that their conduct is criminal. The ordinance intrudes upon freedom of speech guaranteed by the Florida and the United States Constitutions."

The president of the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU, Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, commended Brummer's office for its legal position and stated: “The decision vindicates our arguments that the city clearly intended all along to restrict the rights of individuals to freely express themselves in direct violation of the First Amendment. We fought against its passage in 2001 because we felt that it diminished people’s freedom of speech and we knew it was circumventing other civil liberties to please the business community of Miami Beach.”

 

 

 

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Law Offices of the Public Defender
Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida

 

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