Protesters charged with resisting arrest may not face jail time under new diversion program

Instead of fines, jail time, person may watch video educating on law

People who are arrested on charges of resisting law enforcement without violence may not necessarily face jail time under outgoing State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s new policy.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – People who are arrested on charges of resisting law enforcement without violence may not necessarily face jail time under outgoing State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s new policy.

This new policy would impact people who were arrested this summer while demonstrating in response to the death of George Floyd and racial injustices but also anyone who is charged with resisting arrest in a non-violent capacity.

Ayala is the chief prosecutor for the Ninth Judicial Circuit which includes Orange and Osceola counties. She laid out her new diversion program Tuesday saying, effective immediately, her office will change the way it prosecutes resisting an officer without violence cases.

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“As we have all witnessed over the past several months, thousands of people across the country and right here on Central Florida have taken to the streets to peacefully protest and ensure their voices are heard regarding police violence, systemic racism and social injustice,” she said. “In many cases, these peaceful protesters have been met by efforts to silence them and crush their First Amendment rights to get them off the streets and out of the public view. Not surprisingly, many of these people are charged with resisting an officer without violence as a means to do this.”

People charged with resisting an officer without violence would typically face up to a year in prison, probation or a $1,000 fine. Ayala said under her new policy if the person who is charged opts for her office’s new diversion program, they will watch a video that will provide education on the law and insights on the dangers of violating the law and resisting a law enforcement officer’s lawful command.

“Our new policy directs ASA’s to pursue diversion in instances where there are no aggravating or egregious circumstances,” she explained. “As always, we lead with common sense. If there are aggravating factors or (a) person has resisted so many times they create a public safety issue or somehow safety compromised, ASA can seek permission to proceed with traditional prosecution.”

The State Attorney’s Office outlines those facing such charges can only participate in the program once in a sixth-month period.

Ayala said this new diversion program is focused on education and mitigating injustice within the community.

“One of the many problems with this it affects communities of color at far greater rates,” she said. “My office’s internal case management software confirms this fact. It’s based on information provided to us directly from law enforcement. In Orange County over the past year alone, Blacks or African Americans have made up 63% all standalone resisting cases even though they only make up 22% of the population.”

Standalone cases are those in which no other criminal activity is present, Ayala referring that those charged with resisting an officer without violence is often the only charge they face in that incident.

“Studies consistently fail to show any connection between these resisting an officer without violence charges and predicting future criminal behavior. However, we definitely (know) how these arrests and subsequent legal battles negatively affect those charged. Giving these cries for justice, demands for accountability and limited resources, its time to make a change," she said.

Ayala admitted during the news conference she had not spoken to local law enforcement about her office’s new diversion program.

“I was surprised to be informed of this policy change through the media. The State Attorney did not confer with me, or other law enforcement leaders I’m aware of when considering this action,” Orange County Sheriff John Mine said in a statement to News 6. “I understand and support the desire for criminal justice reform. But these decisions should be thoughtful, and carefully considered by all members of the law enforcement community and their stakeholders. I am extremely concerned this action will cause confusion in our community. People should know it is still a violation of the law to refuse to follow the instructions of law enforcement.”

News 6 has reached out to other local law enforcement agencies for comment, this story will be updated accordingly.