Order issued by Chief Judge may violate 1st and 4th Amendment rights of courthouse grounds protesters

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 6, 2013
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, media@aclufl.org, (786) 363-2737

Sanford, FL - In advance of today’s pretrial hearing of George Zimmerman in the case of the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida sent a letter to Judge Alan A. Dickey, Chief Judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit, expressing concern about an administrative order regarding protests outside the courthouse.

The order, Administrative Order No. 13-14-S, issued on May 13th, restricts anticipated demonstrations outside the courthouse to designated protest zones, limits the kinds of objects which demonstrators may bring into said zones, and subjects people “assembling on courthouse grounds” to submit to suspicionless searches in order to enter the protest zones. Today’s pretrial hearing is the final one in Zimmerman’s case before the trial begins next week.

The following are selections from the letter, which is signed by ACLU of Florida’s Mid-Florida Regional Staff Attorney Yvette Acosta Macmillan and ACLU of Florida’s Associate Legal Director Maria Kayanan:

“We respect the Court’s duty to protect all defendants’ right to a fair trial, and its inherent authority to ensure the orderly administration of justice and safety of the public and court personnel on courthouse grounds. However, we write to express the ACLU of Florida’s concerns over the Order’s sweeping, content-based restrictions on speech regarding matters of public concern, and the broad discretion afforded to law enforcement to search individuals’ persons and belongings as a condition for the exercise of their First Amendment rights.

[…]

It is content-based, overbroad and vague, and bans expressive conduct and speech which are well within the ambit of protected expression under the United States and Florida Constitutions.

[…]

Moreover, an individual’s right to exercise First Amendment rights cannot be conditioned on the surrender of his or her Fourth Amendment rights. Put differently, the Court may not condition access to the Public Assembly Zone on warrantless, suspicionless searches of individuals ‘assembling on courthouse grounds.’

[…]

We respectfully urge the Court to reconsider the restrictions, and issue a revised order that is consistent with the U.S. Constitution.”

A copy of the letter is available here: http://aclufl.org/resources/letter-8th-judicial-circuit-courthouse-protest-order/

The order issued on May 13th is available here: http://brevardclerk.us/_cache/files/120e8099-560a-4be3-be38-24c147b41747/13-14-s%20amd.pdf

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