Face Mask Crimes in Florida

Update: This article was last updated on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Since that time, these ordinances requiring a person to wear a face mask were rescinded.

As the deaths from COVID-19 began to climb, many jurisdictions throughout Florida enacted ordinances requiring people to wear a face mask in public. The face mask is sometimes called a “personal protection mask.”

For these local ordinance violations, the penalties for going out in public with a bare face are usually civil penalties with a fine only. Some ordinances impose criminal penalties including up to sixty (60) days in jail.

Laws created to compel people to wear a face mask in public raise several interesting legal issues because they conflict with other laws. For example, Florida law prohibits wearing a face mask while having an improper intent listed in Florida Statute Section 876.155, as explained below. Additionally, certain crimes committed while wearing a face mask are subject to a sentencing enhancement under Section 775.0845.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the policy behind statutes was that wearing a face mask might provide a “perfect cover” to commit a crime. The face mask effectively hides a person’s identity from a surveillance video or facial recognition software.

Many people are asking whether the holder of a concealed weapon license in Florida, can carry a concealed weapon or firearm while wearing a face mask. Does wearing the face mask somehow invalidate the protections of the concealed firearm permit? The short answer is “no.”

The criminal defense attorneys at Sammis Law Firm represent people accused of a felony or a misdemeanor throughout the greater Tampa Bay area. Call 813-250-0500.

History of Crimes for Wearing a Face Mask in Florida

Since the 1950’s, several Florida statutes have prohibited wearing a face mask or covering under certain conditions including:

  1. Section 876.12 which makes it a crime to wear a face mask or hood on a public way;
  2. Section 876.13 which makes it a crime to wear a hood or mask on public property; and
  3. Section 876.14 which makes it a crime to wear a hood or mask on the property of another.

To be guilty of these crimes, the additional broad requirements found in Florida Statute Section 876.155 must also be shown. Those broad additional requirement involves proof that the defendant was wearing the face mask, hood, or other covering with the intent to:

  1. deprive any person of the equal protection of the laws or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws; or
  2. for the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities in giving or securing to all persons within this state the equal protection of the laws;
  3. by force or threat of force, to injure, intimidate, or interfere with any person because of the person’s exercise of any right secured by federal, state, or local law;
  4. to intimidate such person or any other person or any class of persons from exercising any right secured by federal, state, or local law;
  5. with the intent to intimidate, threaten, abuse, or harass any other person; or
  6. while engaged in conduct that could reasonably lead to the institution of a civil or criminal proceeding against her or him, with the intent of avoiding identification in such a proceeding.

According to the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Florida:

“these statutes, which were first passed in the 1950’s, were apparently aimed at the Ku Klux Klan. The Florida Supreme Court found one of these statutes (all of which are virtually identical) unconstitutional in Robinson v. State, 393 So. 2d 1076 (Fla. 1980) (holding that statute criminalizing wearing hood or mask on public property was overbroad, and exceptions provided by section 876.16 were not sufficient to cure this fatal overbreadth, nor were the statutory words susceptible of any limiting construction).

The legislature apparently attempted to cure these problems in 1981, by the passage of section 876.155, Florida Statutes, which limits the application of these statutes.”

Nicol v. State, 939 So. 2d 231, 233 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006).

The media has been critical of people complaining about the discrepancies between laws encouraging wearing a mask and laws discouraging wearing a mask. The real problem occurs when too many laws are enacted, the laws contradict each other, the law is too broad, too vague, and selectively enforced. Crimes for wearing or not wearing a face mask are the perfect example.

Sentencing Enhancements for Wearing a Mask

Florida also has an enhancement statute for wearing a face mask or covering while committing a crime found in Section 775.0845, F.S. (“Wearing mask while committing offense; reclassification”), which provides:

The felony or misdemeanor degree of any criminal offense, other than a violation of §§ 876.12-876.15, shall be reclassified to the next higher degree as provided in this section if, while committing the offense, the offender was wearing a hood, mask, or other device that concealed his or her identity.

The courts in Florid have held that “a defendant’s sentence cannot be enhanced under section 775.0845 without evidence establishing that the defendant personally wore a hood, mask, or other device that concealed his or her identity.” Wright v. State, 810 So. 2d 873, 874 (Fla. 2002).

Crimes for Not Wearing a Mask in Florida

Because of the COVID-19, the CDC began recommending that people wear a face mask or covering in public. Now fashion face masks in decorative and stylish fabrics are on sale.

As face coverings have become more available and the deaths from COVID-19 increased, various jurisdictions have created city and county ordinances to require people to wear the masks in public.

In fact, not wearing a face mask or face-covering might result in being issued a civil citation or even being charged with a crime. Some jurisdictions have refused to issue such ordinances because they are nearly impossible to enforce.

Florida’s Various Make Ordinances

Local cities and counties through Florida have enacted Emergency Orders (often called the “Mask Ordinance”) that requires the citizens of the city or county to utilize face coverings in the form of masks or plastic face shields while in designated public places. Most of the ordinances have exceptions for:

  • children under the age of two years
  • persons actively engaged in socially distant exercise
  • persons who have a medical condition that makes wearing a facial covering unsafe
  • persons who object based on their religious belief

The Mask Ordinances being enacted in Florida allow for the temporary removal of a face covering in order to consume food and beverages and to assist hearing-impaired persons with lip reading.

Face Mask Ordinance Citations in Hillsborough County, FL

On June 22, 2020, in Hillsborough County, the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group passed a mask ordinance that went into effect on Wednesday, June 24, 2020, at 5 p.m.

Under the county ordinance in Hillsborough County, FL, all employees and customers are required to wear a mask while inside of the business unless social distancing is possible.

Exempt from the ordinance apply to schools and places of worship. Law enforcement officers intend to focus on citing the business operators and not the owner of the space in which the business occupies.

Face Mask Ordinance Citations in Tampa, FL

In Tampa, FL, Mayor Jane Castor implemented a mask ordinance in the city that went into effect on June 19, 2020. The ordinance provides:

“Every person working, living, visiting, or doing business in the City of Tampa shall wear a face covering in any indoor location, other than their home or residence, when not maintaining social distancing from other person(s), excluding family members or companions.”

Under certain circumstances, the Tampa ordinance provides an exemption when the person is:

  • eating or drinking;
  • exercising (while maintaining social distancing);
  • working in a business or profession where use of a face covering would prevent them from performing the duties of the business or profession;
  • working in a business or profession who maintain social distancing from another person;
  • working in a business or profession who do not have interactions with other persons; or
  • while observing social distancing in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Other exemptions apply to people who:

  • have an existing health condition that would cause impairment when wearing a face covering; and
  • under the age of two years old.

The ordinance in Tampa, FL, does not apply to public safety, fire and other life safety and health care personnel, as their personal protective equipment requirements will be controlled by their respective agencies.

The requirement to wear a face mask in Tampa, FL, does not apply when a person who is hearing-impaired needs to see the mouth of someone wearing a face-covering in order to communicate.

This article was last updated on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.