AP

Election fraud case against Florida defendant dismissed

Oct 20, 2022, 9:21 PM | Updated: Oct 21, 2022, 11:00 am

FILE - Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses attendees during the Turning Point USA Stud...

FILE - Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses attendees during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit on July 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. Newly released police bodycam footage shows that three of the 20 people who were arrested in Florida for allegedly voting illegally in the 2020 election appeared to be surprised that they had done anything wrong. The recordings, made by local police and obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, were published Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, after DeSantis announced charges against the suspects in August as the first major public move of his controversial election police unit. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

One of the 20 people arrested with fanfare under an election fraud program launched by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had his case dismissed Friday by a Miami judge, but the governor plans to appeal the ruling.

Those arrested had voted in 2020, the first major elections since a state constitutional amendment allowed many felons to have voting rights automatically restored, except for those convicted of murder and felony sexual assault or those who still owe fines or restitution.

The arrests announced in August under the governor’s election integrity initiative were people who had been convicted on those charges and therefore ineligible under the new rules. But voting advocates say the fact that the defendants were able to successfully register with their local election officials gave them a false sense of eligibility, so the cases were unfair.

Court records show Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch agreed that Robert Lee Wood, 56, should not be prosecuted under the initiative because it did not involve multiple jurisdictions in Florida.

That’s because the cases against Wood and the others were brought by the Office of Statewide Prosecution rather than a local state attorney, something the judge concluded was improper on jurisdictional grounds.

For that office to prosecute someone, Hirsch found, the crime must have taken place “in two more more judicial circuits as part of a related transaction.”

“Here the crime, if there was one, occurred exclusively in Miami,” Hirsch wrote. “It is an old truth that all politics is local. OSP seeks to stand that old truth on its head.”

The two dismissed felony charges against Wood — giving false information on registration forms and voting even though he knew he was not qualified — had to do with his September 2020 registration to vote and then subsequent votes he cast in that November’s election.

It turned out Wood, previously convicted of second-degree murder, was not eligible to vote under the amendment that restored voting rights for other felons. State Corrections Department records show Wood was released in August 2010 after serving 19 years behind bars.

The judge did not address the merits of the charges in his ruling.

“We’re pleased with the ruling. We’re going to wait to see whether the statewide office wants to appeal it,” said Wood’s attorney, Larry Davis.

DeSantis, a Republican running for reelection this year and widely considered a 2024 presidential candidate, will appeal the case, according to his spokesman.

“We disagree with the court’s jurisdictional ruling and intend to appeal. Given that elections violations of this nature impact all Florida voters, elections officials, state government, and the integrity of our republic, we continue to view the Florida Office of Statewide Prosecution as the appropriate agency to prosecute these crimes,” press secretary Bryan Griffin said in an email.

DeSantis said in announcing the charges that the people targeted had been convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense and therefore were not eligible to vote under the 2018 constitutional amendment.

The 20 people arrested were among more than 11 million Florida voters who cast ballots in the 2020 election, leading critics of DeSantis to renew accusations that the election police force would serve as a political tool for the governor.

Neil Volz, deputy director of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said Florida should have a voter verification system that properly screens potential voters when they attempt to register for the vote, so that once registered they can safely assume they’re eligible to vote.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Photo: Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Melinda French Gates speaks at the forum Emp...

Michelle Chapman and Thalia Beaty, The Associated Press

Melinda French Gates to donate $1 billion over next 2 years in support of women’s rights

Melinda French Gates said she will be donating $1B to individuals and organizations working on behalf of women and families globally.

10 hours ago

Photo: Basketball Hall of Fame legend Bill Walton laughs during a practice session for the NBA All-...

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

Bill Walton, Hall of Fame player who became a star broadcaster, dies at 71

Bill Walton, who became a Hall of Famer for his NBA career and one of the biggest stars in basketball broadcasting, died Monday.

2 days ago

Photo: A shopper moves past a display of items in a Costco warehouse Saturday, May 18, 2024....

Associated Press

What’s open and closed on Memorial Day

Businesses increasingly have chosen to stay open on the holiday, leading to what is now one of the biggest retail sales weekends of the year.

2 days ago

Image:A portrait of Officer Vancouver Police Department officer Donald Sahota is displayed as he is...

The Associated Press

Man convicted of murder in death of Vancouver police officer shot by deputy

A Yakima man was found guilty of murder for his role in the death of a Vancouver police officer who was shot by a sheriff's deputy in error.

4 days ago

Image:The headquarters of Live Nation is shown June 29, 2020, in Beverly Hills, California. The Jus...

Associated Press

Government sues Ticketmaster owner and asks court to break up company’s monopoly on live events

The DOJ has accused Ticketmaster and parent company Live Nation Entertainment of running an illegal monopoly over live events in America.

6 days ago

Image: Ambulances are seen at the airport where a London-Singapore flight that encountered severe t...

Associated Press

World news roundup: Man dies after turbulence; Iran funerals; Israel media law

A Singapore Airlines flight hit severe turbulence over the Indian Ocean and descended 6,000 feet in a span of about three minutes.

8 days ago

Election fraud case against Florida defendant dismissed