Florida voter has voter fraud charges touted by DeSantis thrown out

A Florida man had his voter fraud charges dismissed on Friday, making him the first of 20 people who Governor Ron DeSantis announced had been charged with voter fraud in August, to beat his case.

A Miami judge’s ruling could now pave the way for similar motions and rulings in the 19 other cases of electoral fraudwhich drew national attention and controversy when they were announced on August 18.

Robert Lee Wood, who was facing one count of making a false statement on a voter application and one count of voting as an unqualified voter, had his charges dismissed on the grounds that the prosecutor n did not have the appropriate skill.

Wood was facing up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines and costs, for allegedly voting illegally in the 2020 election.

When the charges were announced Aug. 18, DeSantis told a news conference that local prosecutors had been “reluctant” to take up voter fraud cases.

“Now we have the opportunity, with the Attorney General and the State Attorney, to bring these [cases] on behalf of the State of Florida,” he said.

But a judge ruled Friday that the state’s attorney lacked jurisdiction over a case in Miami. Statewide prosecutors, which are an extension of the attorney general’s office, are prosecuting all of the voter fraud cases that were filed in August.

For the state prosecutor to have jurisdiction, the alleged crimes must have been committed in at least two judicial circuits.

The judge accepted the defense’s argument that the alleged violations, requesting the ballot and voting while ineligible, only occurred in Miami-Dade County. Thus, the state’s attorney proved incompetent.

Prosecutors across the state argued that the alleged crimes were committed in Leon County in addition to Miami-Dade County, as the defendants’ applications and votes were then forwarded to the State Department in Tallahassee. .

The defense argued that the alleged offenses only occurred at Miami-Dade.

The judge sided with the defense, even citing Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” in his order granting the motion to dismiss.

“His arms stretched wider than the wings of a dragon,” the judge wrote in his order, referring to the state’s attorney.

“How much wider than that does [the statewide prosecutor] looking to expand its reach? »

“It’s an old truth that all politics is local,” the judge added. “[The statewide prosecutor] seeks to overthrow this old truth”

Larry Davis, Wood’s attorney, said his motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds has been forwarded to attorneys representing the other defendants of election fraud.

The state attorney can now appeal the case. If that fails, Democratic Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle will also have the option of filing a complaint.

Just days before the Florida primary in August, DeSantis told a news conference that 20 people who voted in 2020 had been charged with voter fraud. They had all been convicted of murder or criminal sex offenses, DeSantis added, which under Florida law disenfranchised them.

“Yet they went ahead and voted anyway. It’s against the law, and now they’re going to pay the price,” the governor said.

Those accused of voting illegally received state voting cards, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Many of them told officers they thought they were eligible, according to court records.

This includes Wood, who was charged with second-degree murder in 1991. Wood registered to vote in 2020 after being approached by a voter rights advocate at a grocery store. Wood claimed he did not complete the form, but merely signed it, according to the arrest affidavit completed by an FDLE officer.

The form includes a section that asks the applicant either to verify that they are not a criminal or, if applicable, to declare that their right to vote has been restored.

Voters’ rights advocates say the provision is particularly confusing because of the passage of Amendment 4 to the Florida Constitution in 2018, which restored the franchise to all felons except felons. people convicted of sex crimes or murder.

Later, another condition was added requiring voters guilty of crimes to pay their fines and fees before their rights were restored.

Florida Republican state legislator Jeff Brandes, author of Amendment 4, criticized the 20 arrests in a tweet during DeSantis’ press conference, urging the state to examine voter intent.

“Our intent was that ineligible individuals would be granted some state pardon if they registered with no intent to commit voter fraud,” he tweeted Aug. 18.

Intent is at the heart of these cases. A prosecutor must prove that a defendant knowingly and voluntarily registered to vote or knowingly and voluntarily voted when ineligible. It’s not enough for a conviction to show only that the voter voted when they were ineligible, according to Robert Barrar, a criminal defense attorney representing another defendant charged with voter fraud.

In many of these cases, the defendants told officers that they believed they had the right to vote, according to their arrest affidavits.

Mark Earley, president of the Florida Association of Election Supervisors, told ABC News that local supervisors don’t have the resources to check a potential voter’s criminal record. It is the obligation of the State Department, he said.

Election supervisors verify applications and then forward them to Tallahassee, where Elections Division staff can verify convictions against voter rolls.

Unless an election supervisor receives a packet from the State Department containing information indicating a voter is ineligible, the voter receives a voting card, Earley said.

But due to a backlog, as described by an electoral divisions official in a 2020 federal case, Florida “struggled” to come up with a process to identify ineligible felons, The Tampa Bay Times reported.

It is unclear whether the State Department ever sent these packets to local election officials. But local election officials mailed all 20 voter cards to arrested voters, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Former Bureau of Election Crimes and Security chief Pete Antonacci sent a letter reviewed by ABC News to local election supervisors the day of the governor’s announcement, telling them “through no fault of yours” the criminals convicts voted in their counties.

Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which helped Brandes with Amendment 4, said in a statement that Friday’s decision “strengthens our resolve to continue to put people above politics.”

The decision in Wood is the first disposition of 18 cases that have been announced by the Florida Department of Law Enforcementfollowing DeSantis’ announcement.

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