Larry Davis, an attorney representing Wood, said he was “satisfied with Judge Hirsch’s decision.”
Wood was among 20 mostly black defendants arrested in August in a voter fraud crackdown led by the Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security. The first wave of arrests, which was announced at a high-profile press conference in mid-August, focused on people previously convicted of crimes who voted despite not having had their right to vote. not been restored.
Yet since those arrests, new information has come to light showing that most of the defendants were told by state officials that they could vote. In each case, the defendants registered to vote without issue. Election officials in the DeSantis administration processed voter registrations, which caused confusion among the defendants who believed they were legally entitled to vote.
The 20 defendants, if convicted of election fraud, face five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The DeSantis administration intends to appeal the decision.
“We continue to view the Florida State Bureau of Prosecutions as the appropriate agency to prosecute these crimes.” said Bryan Griffin, spokesman for DeSantis. “The state will continue to enforce the law.”
Hirsch’s decision could cause problems for the state’s 19 remaining cases related to the DeSantis voter fraud crackdown, each of which was brought by the state’s office.
“The precedent of this case should impact those cases as well,” said Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. “The lack of legal authority should also apply to all of their remaining cases.”
Volz’s group worked with the defendants, helping them find free counsel and raising money for their legal defense funds. The organization previously spearheaded the passage of Amendment 4, which established a process for most people convicted of a crime to seek restoration of their right to vote.
“This reinforces our resolve to continue to put people above politics and to honor the commitment we made to the 1.4 million people affected by Amendment 4, who should take advantage of the opportunity to participate fully in our democracy,” Volz said.
Court records from August showed most of those arrested told the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that they believed they were eligible to vote because state and county election officials had not reported their application for registration and that they had been sent voter cards.
A new round of arrest scrutiny, which authorities have carried out in morning raids, came after the Tampa Bay Times published body camera footage of Hillsborough County deputies as they arrested one of the people involved in the arrests.
Police told Tony Patterson, a registered black sex offender, on the way to jail that they were just as confused as he was by the arrest, according to video released by The Times.
“Why would you let me vote if I couldn’t vote?” Patterson asked.
“I’m not sure, mate, I don’t know,” the officer replied.