A Palm Beach man will have to defend himself before a jury after he peeled his vehicle out over a freshly painted rainbow crosswalk in commemoration of Pride Month. He has been charged with criminal mischief over $1,000, reckless driving, and evidence of prejudice which acts as an intensifier to the charges elevating them to a felony. The defendant rejected a plea deal in the case which will force it before a jury.
The First Amendment
While you may be inclined to wonder if defacing an installation on public property is protected speech under the First Amendment, it isn’t. The First Amendment does not give you the right to destroy someone else’s property, only your own. Such incidents were discussed in terms of flag-burning prosecutions. While you’re within your rights to burn your own American flag, you cannot destroy government property or private property that belongs to someone else.
Criminal mischief is a property crime. Essentially, the prosecutors must be able to prove that you intentionally destroyed property that did not belong to you. In other words, criminal mischief involves the wanton destruction of property. The defendant is accused of intentionally defacing the Pride crosswalk for no other reason than to deface a pride crosswalk. Criminal mischief of over $1,000 is a felony.
The defendant is accused of burning out his vehicle over the crosswalk. To prove a reckless driving charge, the prosecution will need to show that the defendant evinced a wanton disregard for the rights and safety of others. This includes their property, not just their person. While awkwardly situated in this prosecution, a reckless driving charge may be possible to prove simply because there was a destruction of property. Reckless driving is a misdemeanor, but reckless driving plus evidence of prejudice is a felony.
Evidence of prejudice
Evidence of prejudice acts as an intensifier making the charges more serious under Florida law. In this case, the defendant’s reckless driving charge was elevated to a felony. So he will face two third-degree felonies with a maximum penalty of 10 years behind bars.
The prosecution’s narrative
The prosecution will characterize the defendant as an anti-LGBTQ bigot who defaced the rainbow crosswalk because he wanted to send a message to the LGBTQ community that they were unwanted and that there were those out there who opposed them.
The defense could argue that the defendant bears no ill will toward the LGBTQ community and the whole thing boiled down to bad driving. Criminal mischief requires intent. You can’t negligently commit criminal mischief. You can negligently reckless drive, but peeling out in a crosswalk wouldn’t necessarily be an example of reckless driving. So, the defendant could argue that he’s just a guy who hit the accelerator too hard.
He will not, however, be able to argue that since others are tearing down statues of controversial political figures, he should be able to deface LGBTQ symbols in the public view. That would simply confirm the prosecution’s narrative of events.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
If you’re facing serious criminal charges, call the West Palm Beach criminal attorneys at The Skier Law Firm, P.A. today and we can begin preparing your defense immediately.