The Florida House of Representatives and Florida Senate have both unanimously passed a bill to protect criminal defense attorneys and public defenders from violent acts in the courtroom. Sponsored by State Representative Patt Maney, the initiative enhances the penalty for violent offenses committed against defense attorneys during court proceedings to a felony charge. This bill aligns with Florida law that protects law enforcement officers, correctional officers, prosecutors, and judges from violent offenses during court proceedings. SB 384 now awaits the Governor’s review and signature.

“An attack on any courtroom personnel is an attack on our entire criminal justice system. This legislation corrects the injustice of leaving our defense attorneys and public defenders vulnerable to violence in our courtrooms,” said State Representative Patt Maney. “Both Florida’s House and Senate unanimously stood up this week and resolutely affirmed that our courts will be safe places to conduct the people’s business. No more ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ cards for beating up your lawyer.”  

 With this bill’s passage, both the House and Senate of Florida have unanimously confirmed that the courts must be safe places to conduct the people’s business.

The bill was triggered by the November 2022 vicious attack on criminal defense attorney Eric Atria by his client, Obadiah Dillard, a career criminal, in an Alachua County courtroom. While Mr. Atria was preparing to speak on behalf of his client, Dillard violently punched his attorney, hoping to declare a mistrial. The attack resulted in Atria’s suffering a fractured skull, a concussion, and a broken tooth. 

Dillard was charged with a second-degree felony due to the severity of the assault.

The bipartisan effort of Representatives Patt Maney and Bobby Payne sponsored the Committee Substitute for House Bill (CS/HB) 71, which was co-sponsored by Representatives Mike Beltran, Christopher Benjamin, Garcia, and Michelle Salzman, with the support of House Speaker Paul Renner and House Rules Chairman Daniel Perez. Upon its third reading, the bill was laid on the table and substituted by its identical Senate companion Senate Bill 384, sponsored by Senators Jennifer Bradley and Jonathan Martin.

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