A Deerfield Beach man who was the first in Florida to be charged with defying the state’s “Red Flag” law has been found guilty and is now facing a maximum prison term of five years.
Broward Circuit Judge Ernest Kollra ordered a pre-sentencing investigation for Jerron Smith, 33, who was accused in March 2018 of failing to allow law enforcement officials to confiscate his weapons under the new state law, which was designed to take firearms away from those deemed most likely to use them to commit crimes.
The so-called “red flag” law was passed in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, one of the few gun reform laws that Democrats and Republicans could agree on in the Florida legislature. Under the law, police agencies are required to establish that a person is at high risk of using a firearm to commit a crime.
Smith was arrested in 2018, accused of shooting at a car driven by a friend with whom he was having an argument over a borrowed cellphone. The victim, Travis Jackson, was shaken but unhurt.
But deputies seized on the opportunity to obtain a “risk protection order” under the newly minted law. When they arrived at Smith’s Deerfield Beach home, the defendant did not fully understand how far his rights extended, or more significantly, how far they did not.
“He never had an opportunity to understand what was going on,” said defense lawyer Jim Lewis, who represented Smith at trial this week. “He thought he had a right to have an attorney present before the order was executed.”
He didn’t. Risk protection orders are civil actions, but defying them is a criminal act. Under the law, police need to convince a judge that removing weapons from the defendant is warranted. Once the judge makes that determination, the defendant must either surrender the weapons or place them in the care of an independent person who can possess the weapons legally; that person would have to vow to keep the weapons from the defendant.
Smith told a Broward jury he was unaware of those requirements when deputies came to his door. He repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, evidently believing police could not search his home without a warrant or his consent.
Police evidently do not have a right to test seized weapons to determine whether they were used in other crimes — that would require a separate warrant, Lewis said.
Florida is one of 15 states with so-called Red Flag laws, but South Florida actually lags the rest of the state in invoking the statute, according to state statistics for the first half of 2019. On a per capita basis, Broward ranks 13th statewide, Miami-Dade 39th and Palm Beach County 44th.
Prosecutor Diana Chiorean said Smith was well aware of his rights and responsibilities under the law because the deputies who confronted him instructed him clearly — the encounter was recorded on body cam and played back for the jury. The deputies told Smith he was required to surrender his weapons and that his attorney could challenge the order at a later hearing.
“He volunteered the fact that he had a concealed weapons permit,” said Chiorean, which helped demonstrate that he knew his rights and was not confusing his rights as a criminal defendant with his rights under the civil law.
The jury agreed with the prosecutor, returning a guilty verdict in less than an hour.
Kollra ordered a pre-sentencing investigation to be completed within a month. An exact sentencing date has not been set, and Smith is still awaiting trial on the attempted murder charge that instigated his legal troubles.