Florida Prosecutors Continue with Pending Concealed Weapons Cases, Despite New Bill

May 10, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

Last month, Florida eliminated the requirement of a permit when carrying a concealed weapon. That means starting July 1st, individuals cannot be arrested or prosecuted for not obtaining a permit or taking a firearms safety course. This has caused confusion over the remaining concealed carry cases in the State Attorney’s Offices across the State.

This article will cover DeSantis signing HB 543 into law, along with debates over the new law and how to handle the remaining cases in Florida.

DeSantis Signs HB 543

On April 3rd, 2023, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 543 to allow individuals to carry concealed weapons without a government-issued permit. Prior to HB 543, any person who wished to own and carry a firearm had to first obtain a permit. A failure to do so would result in a breach of peace. 

One important detail to note is that permitless concealed carry is not the same thing as open carry. The new law does not give Floridians the right to openly carry a gun in public. Instead, the new law only allows the permitless carry of a firearm that is concealed.

In addition, HB 543 has the following requirements:

  • Must be a U.S. citizen;
  • Must be at least 21-years-old; and
  • Cannot have any disqualifying felony convictions, for a crime relating to drug abuse or violence, or misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence.

Other reasons a person may be ineligible to carry a concealed weapon under Florida’s new law include dishonorable military discharge, a person committed to a mental institution, or a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

The biggest difference for the new law is that individuals are no longer required to complete an approved firearm training program, nor will a firearm competency be necessary to carry a concealed weapon.

Debate Over Prosecution for Previous Law

Since HB 543’s passing, there has been confusion over Florida’s retroactive provisions about pending cases. That leaves hundreds of cases and arrestees in a gray legal area, as the crime they have been charged with will no longer exist in less than two months.

According to the State Attorney’s Office for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, they are currently handling 775 concealed carry cases in Orange County. There are currently 104 cases in Osceola County.

When Orlando Sentinel reached out to the State Attorney’s offices regarding comments on the issue, several responded that they will continue to prosecute pending carry cases against non-felons and individuals over 21—the people who will be protected under the permitless carry law.

Keisha Mulfort, the spokesperson for Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell’s office, explained prosecutors will go forward with prosecution for concealed carry cases because “our office cannot decide which laws follow and which ones we won’t.”

The following is an email statement from Mulfort:

“As it currently stands, this offense is still a crime in the State of Florida, and we will resolve these matters with the gravity it deserves…Not following the law in light of the devastating losses our community suffered…is not something our office is willing to do.”

However, Mulfort said those accused of illegally carrying a concealed weapon may also be presented with the opportunity to have their cases dropped or go through pretrial diversion programs when applicable.

Todd Brown, the spokesperson for the Seminole-Brevard State Attorney’s Office, addressed this issue by stating that since there isn’t a retroactive provision in the new law, the existing law shall be what the prosecutors follow up until midnight on June 30th.

Samantha Syoen, spokesperson for the 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office said, “the new law has not taken effect, so our handling of cases has not changed yet.”

Several other State Attorney’s Offices have followed a similar path, claiming that they will continue to prosecute each case until the law goes into effect. Many are saying it will be based on a case-to-case basis.

However, arguments have arisen from the defense side, claiming that to move forward with these cases is a form of “punishment without crime.”

“It creates a personal environment in which a person’s life is always under the threat of destabilization,” Defense attorney Roger Weeden said. “This threat of destabilization is present even if a person has not been formally convicted, but placed on probation.”

In addition, Weeden pointed out that a large portion of concealed carry charges are not accompanied by any other charges. Weeden claims this “dispels the myth that it deters other offenses or make the community safer.”

Another downside of continuing to prosecute these cases is the overwhelming workload State Attorney’s Offices are currently facing. Across Florida, there has been a turnover rate of around 25% for State Attorneys. With the COVID-related delays and high vacancy rates, there is a huge backlog of cases.

Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade County State Attorney, wrote that her office is down “over 100 prosecutors and 250 staff, trending to a 30% vacancy rate and being crushed by a backlog of COVID cases.”

“It’s essentially a waste of the court’s time and resources,” Weeden said. “…And some otherwise law-abiding citizens may be labeled felons.”

Current Penalties for Weapons Charges in Florida

The penalties for carrying a weapon without a permit depend on the type of weapon under the current law. Charges can range from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.

In Florida, a first-degree misdemeanor has penalties of up to $1,000 in fines and up to one year in jail.

A third-degree felony has penalties of up to $5,000 in fines and up to five years of imprisonment.

The current law has a provision that exempts those people evacuating from a mandatory order issued during a state of emergency declared by the Governor of Florida. This applies during the first 48 hours that a mandatory evacuation order is issued while that person is moving away from the evacuation zone.

In addition to the legal penalties, getting convicted of a weapons charge can create long-lasting impacts. The individual will have a weapons conviction on their criminal history, which can cause difficulties when searching for a job or home.

If you are facing weapons charges in Florida, we highly recommend seeking out an experienced defense attorney in your area.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Despite Florida passing a more lenient concealed carry law, State Attorneys are still prosecuting these cases up until the law goes into effect on July 1st, 2023. If you or someone you love has been charged with unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon and is facing criminal charges, contact a defense attorney as soon as possible.

Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have spent years working with Floridians who are being prosecuted for a criminal offense. Our team will put you and your case first and do everything we can to get your charges lessened or dismissed. Call our office at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message on our website for a free consultation.

Written by Karissa Key

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