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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 individuals 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 peoples freedom of speech and we knew it was circumventing other
civil liberties to please the business community of Miami Beach.