Florida appeals court warns trial judges their power to seize guns is limited
Trial judges need specific information about physical threats before ordering firearms seized, according to the Florida Second District Court of Appeal.
Lee Williams – June 5, 2021
It took a team of 15 lawmen and court bailiffs an entire day to remove all the firearms and ammunition from Alecs Dean’s Southwest Florida home last year.
They filled an entire box truck.
Dean, a firearms expert and consultant, had amassed an incredible collection.
Most of the firearms seized weren’t even firearms, legally.
“They were antiques,” said Dean’s Attorney, Eric Friday, who is also general counsel for Florida Carry, Inc.
Dean’s ammunition collection was as extensive — consisting of thousands of rare and exotic rounds, including many pinfire cartridges, which Dean had painstakingly sorted with a magnifying glass over the years.
“They all got dumped in a box,” Friday said. “They took ammunition components that weren’t even covered by the order. They sure didn’t have the authority to seize them.”
To be clear, the court ordered Dean to surrender his weapons. It did not authorize the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to seize anything.
“They seized them on their own,” Friday said. “They just went in and grabbed them without a court order or a search warrant.”
Dean told the deputies he had a third party on the way to take possession of his collection, and he even offered to hand over the keys to his home and stay elsewhere until things could be worked out. The lawmen didn’t relent.
“We did everything we could to try to prevent this catastrophe,” Friday said.
Dean had been the subject of a temporary court order for protection against stalking, which was brought by Jaclyn Bevis, a local TV reporter in Ft. Myers, Florida.
The temporary court order prohibited Dean from possessing any firearms or ammunition, which he was ordered to surrender to law enforcement.
After the seizure, Dean immediately filed a motion seeking the immediate release of his property, arguing that the court did not have the authority to order him to surrender his firearms and ammunition based solely on a temporary injunction for stalking. The trial court denied his motion, which Dean appealed to the Florida Second District Court of Appeal.
In an opinion released Friday, the appellate court agreed with Dean.
“We conclude, based on the allegations in the petition, that the trial court erred in relying on section 784.0485(5)(a), Florida Statutes (2019), and thus we reverse the temporary injunction to the extent that it prohibited Dean from possessing firearms or ammunition and ordered their surrender,” the three-judge panel said in their opinion.
In her March 30, 2020 sworn petition for the temporary protection order against stalking, Bevis alleged that Dean would provide her with news tips when she worked as a local TV reporter. Over time, she claimed, he “became obsessed with her,” and that when he learned she was seeing someone else, he “lost connection with reality.”
“While his threats of me have not typically been physical in nature, he did once tell me he was ‘looking to kill off another character in his autobiography,’” she wrote in her petition.
Dean’s attorney, Friday, pointed out that this statement was from an online meme, which has been shared with tens of thousands of people.
Bevis wrote she feared for her safety “on the basis of his statements, his mental state, and his access to firearms.”
The court found for Bevis, and ordered Dean to surrender his weapons.
In his appeal, Dean argued that “his right to keep and bear arms as provided for in the Florida Constitution was violated when the trial court entered the temporary injunction, which ordered that he ‘shall not use or possess a firearm or ammunition’ and that he ‘shall surrender all firearms and ammunition’ that he possessed.”
In their opinion, the appellate court noted that Bevis “did not allege any expressed threat of physical violence against her, and she did not allege any expressed or implied threat of the use of a firearm or any other weapon against her.”
The three-judge panel affirmed Bevis’ temporary injunction, but they concluded that the order to surrender his firearms “infringed upon Dean’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms as provided for in the Florida Constitution.”
“Therefore, we reverse the temporary injunction to the extent that it prohibited Dean from possessing firearms and ammunition and ordered their surrender,” the opinion states. “We otherwise affirm the temporary injunction.”
What this means
Friday pointed out that Dean’s ability to obtain fair and impartial hearings was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. At one hearing, Friday was told he could not appear telephonically, and Dean was subsequently told he would have to appear pro-se.
Dean’s firearms and ammunition are now in the hands of a third party, but since the trial court issued a final injunction, Dean cannot have access to his collection for an entire year, or until he can quash the final order at an upcoming hearing, which was delayed due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the appellate court’s opinion has statewide impact, which Dean’s attorney believes is a strong message to lower courts.
Said Friday: “The Florida 2DCA said trial judges need to be more careful. They do not have blanket authority to take guns from people solely because they issue a temporary injunction. Their power is limited. Their power to deprive someone of their constitutional rights is limited. Judges need more information about specific threats — and there were none in this case — before ordering firearms removed from someone’s home.”