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Florida Governor Gives Comfort to Business Owners, Anti-Maskers and COVID-19 Deniers with ‘Categorical’ Pardons for Violations of Mandates


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appeared on Fox News on Wednesday and told Laura Ingraham that he’d be pardoning any Floridian who faced legal action for violating mask mandates or social distancing regulations.

Now, he has followed through with an executive order guaranteeing a reprieve — and not just to the business owners who appeared alongside him on Fox News. The executive order is broad enough to cover any person who has faced or will face legal jeopardy for non-violent violations of local COVID-19 restrictions, which would include anti-maskers and COVID-19 deniers.

DeSantis was apparently inspired by the plight of two Broward County gym owners who were arrested for violating a county mask mandate. Calling their prosecution “a total overreach,” DeSantis said he would first act to delay the case, teeing it up for a pardon once the clemency board meets this June.

Husband and wife Mike Carnevale and Jillian Carnevale are the owners of Fitness 1440 in Plantation, Florida. Last summer, the Donald Trump-supporting gym owners were arrested multiple times for failing to comply with and enforce COVID-19 restrictions in their gym. At one point, Fitness 1440 was also shut down for several days.

DeSantis publicly commented that the Carnevales have been “treated poorly,” but promised, “Fortunately, they got a governor that cares.” The governor isn’t the Carnevales’ sole supporter. The couple launched a GoFundMe page warning that, “if Broward County gets away with putting business owners in Jail, a dangerous precedent will be set that will embolden corrupt governments.” To date, the page has raised over $17,000 in donations.

DeSantis’ broad promises to the Carnevales have now gone beyond mere rhetoric. The governor issued an executive order Thursday, in which he declared a “categorical, statewide, 60-day reprieve for any individual or business that has been or could be” prosecuted any violation of local COVID-19 regulations.  That reprieve means pending cases would be delayed until the next scheduled meeting of the state clemency board. The order went on, promising that “on June 16, 2021, [he] will propose a statewide categorical grant of a full pardon” to individuals and businesses facing legal action for their violations.

Under Florida law, “a Full Pardon unconditionally releases a person from punishment and forgives guilt for any Florida convictions. It restores to an applicant all the rights of citizenship possessed by the person before his or her conviction, including the right to own, possess, or use firearms.”

DeSantis’ executive order guaranteeing pardons comes at the same time the CDC has relaxed guidance on mask-wearing, saying that fully-vaccinated individuals need not wear masks indoors.

[Image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos