When Hueris Mora came to us, we did what we always do when contacted by someone who is facing gun carry charges. We set about researching the charges and circumstances of the incident. Florida Carry only gets involved in these cases when good people face unjust charges because they choose to lawfully carry defensive arms.
In his case, it was immediately apparent that continuing prosecution by the office of Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade State Attorney, was unjust at best. Our consulting attorneys statewide were in unanimous concurrence that prosecution of this case, despite the clear language of 790.053, was completely baseless.
The car he was riding in the back seat of was stopped and everyone ordered out. As he got out, Hueris raised his hands and told the officer "I have a concealed carry license, and I have a gun on me." This is exactly what law enforcement asks that law-abiding concealed carriers do when stopped by police.
When he raised his hands above his head, his shirt rode up exposing his properly holstered handgun. The gun was only exposed because he raised his hands to surrender to the officer and inform him that he was armed. He was arrested and prosecuted months after SB234 was passed clarifying that "brief" exposure is not illegal. The officer and State Attorney used that subjective "briefly exposed" language and the requirement that a licensee be "carrying a firearm in a concealed manner" in to justify the arrest and prosecution.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office must have also known that they were in an untenable position because they quickly agreed to take the possibility of jail time off the table. Removing the possibility of imprisonment was not an olive branch offered in the interest of justice, it was in fact a Trojan Horse. This underhanded move was their only way to keep prosecuting the case because it had the calculated effect of taking away Mr. Mora's public defender. Once the Assistant State Attorney prosecuting the case had effectively maneuvered to deprive Mr. Mora of legal counsel, an offer was made. An offer so common in Florida that it is considered the standard plea deal... "You can retake the concealed course to get your license to carry back but kiss your gun goodbye."
Hueris knew he was getting the shaft despite having done nothing wrong, so he did what nobody before in Florida (that we know of) had done. He didn't sign the deal. This was a brave decision despite having no legal help at that time.
Florida Carry has consulting attorneys who do countless hours of pro bono work behalf of our members. Unfortunately, at that time we did not have a criminal defense attorney in Mr. Mora's area. That's when we reached out to Jesus "Jojo" Rodriguez. He didn't blink. Pro bono defense of a truly worthy young man who needs our help? "Absolutely!" was Jojo's immediate response. Our other attorneys and legal interns rallied together to provide support and Mr. Rodriguez, Florida Carry's newest consulting attorney, drove this case home. The charge of violating Florida's Open Carry Ban was dismissed with prejudice. We finally won this fight that deprived Mr. Mora of his handgun for nearly six months.
Last year, when 2011 SB 234 was debated in the State Legislature, our elected leaders were told about law abiding gun owners being arrested and thrown in jail for even accidental or incidental exposure of lawfully carried firearms. The State Prosecuting Attorneys lobbyist repeatedly said that "Nobody has ever been prosecuted for open carry." The fact is that nobody ever went all the way to trial. Many have been prosecuted; this was a case where a good man fought back. If this doesn't meet some lobbyist definition of prosecution, we recommend a new dictionary.
The Florida Sheriff's Association sent multiple lobbyists in uniform who said that law enforcement officers will use their "proper discretionary powers" and would never arrest someone for carrying a handgun if it became innocently unconcealed. Yet there is a 25 year history of some officers using subjective language in firearms laws to unreasonably arrest law-abiding people who choose to exercise their right to bear arms. In one such case a man lawfully carrying was permanently injured when handcuffs were put on him with such force that nerves in both wrists were severed. All because part of his handgun became unconcealed.
Early last year, Florida's Open Carry Ban was amended to insert the subjective language asked for by the Florida Sheriffs and State Prosecuting Attorneys Lobbyist. This compromised language came with their promise that these incidents would stop. Subsequently Mr. Mora had to spend a night deprived of his freedom in jail and half a year fighting for his rights. Even after the case was won, it took many more months for an attorney to get his handgun returned with a required court order. What should have been nothing more than a check of Mr. Mora's concealed carry license turned out to be a 10 month ordeal even with the assistance of a qualified attorney.
Every month we are contacted by other law-abiding people who have been confronted, detained, and threatened with arrest because they were lawfully carrying a firearm in Florida and it “printed” through clothing or became unconcealed.
Concealed Carry licensee Dale Norman was found guilty of violating the open carry ban by a Jury in June 2012 after his lawfully carried handgun accidentally became exposed while walking. Since he did not notice that his shirt got stuck behind his holster, Dale now has a criminal record. We have video of his arrest.
The judge in Mr. Norman's case will still be hearing motions to dismiss the case, despite the jury finding, on July 31st, 2012.
Florida's very odd open carry ban and the insufficient changes made in 2011 has resulted in at least 15 unjust criminal arrests and prosecutions that we know of since 2011 when SB234 was passed. Only 6 states widely ban Unconcealed Carry.
They have broken their promise and we now call on the Florida Legislature to repeal one of the most anti-gun laws in the country. Despite the Florida Legislature’s clear intent that people who have lawfully carried handguns, which may become innocently unconcealed, face no charges. As long as the general ban on open carry exists, these arrests and prosecutions will continue unabated. Florida Statute 790.053 is Florida's very unusual open carry ban, it was a knee jerk reaction when passed in 1987 and it is long overdue for repeal.
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