DeSantis, Cabinet approve pardons for people facing prosecution for defying COVID mask mandates

By: - June 16, 2021 4:41 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans on the Florida Cabinet have granted pardons to people facing criminal charges for defying mask mandates to contain COVID. Credit: Diane Rado

The Florida Cabinet’s GOP majority backed Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday in granting pardons to people facing criminal charges for failure to observe local mask- and social-distancing guidelines intended to block transmission of COVID-19.

Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis voted with the governor to ratify his promise last month to pardon people charged under mask mandates. Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, the only Democrat on the Cabinet, voted no.

Later, DeSantis signed an executive order memorializing the vote to “categorically grant full pardons for all non-violent offenses related to local government COVID-19 restrictions.”

“I hereby grant full pardons to any individual or business that has been or could be arrested for, charged with, found guilty of, convicted of, subject to a withhold of adjudication for, subject to a plea of guilty or nolo contendere for, or otherwise subject to a sentence or penalty for all non-violent offenses related to local government COVID-19 restrictions,” the order says.

A second order remits any fines related to COVID violations.

Fried issued a written statement later denouncing the vote.

“Local leaders made choices to protect health, safety, and local economies during an unprecedented health crisis. We cannot allow this governor to turn Florida into a ‘cradle of the insurrection’ while we have hundreds of thousands of deserving Floridians waiting for relief from their fines and fees to regain their right to vote,” she said.

DeSantis had earlier issued executive orders quashing such local mandates and cancelling any fines against individuals or businesses, including a 60-day reprieve to stop any prosecutions in advance of Wednesday’s meeting of the state clemency board, comprising the governor and Cabinet.

On hand for the vote were Broward County gym owners Mike and Jillian Carnevale, who’d reportedly been arrested for not enforcing the county’s mask orders. DeSantis denounced the county’s “unwarranted, unreasonable restrictions” on the Carnevale’s gym.

“They refused to kowtow to the county’s demand that they actually force the people who were working out to wear masks — which the WHO says you do not wear masks when you’re exercising, that it’s not healthy,” DeSantis said of the couple.

Mike Carnevale complained that he and his wife had been “persecuted.”

“Health and wellness has always been one of our foundational responsibilities to ourselves. It has never been the role of government to be legally and lawfully enforcing and dictating health and wellness,” he said.

The governor himself closed gyms along with other “nonessential” businesses statewide in March 2020. He allowed them to reopen that May. Although he never issued a statewide mask mandate, he did allow local governments to do so until September, when he began to ban their enforcement.

In early May, DeSantis signed legislation designed to prevent such public-health responses in the future.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.