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FL High Court To Decide Whether Marsy's Law Allows Cops To Hide

The next time there's a police involved shooting in Florida, the news media may not be entitled to the name of the officer who pulled the trigger, reports Florida Bulldog. Without a name, there's no independent review of a personnel record, no ability to check for excessive force complaints or discipline, and no way for law enforcement to show accountability. A Florida Supreme Court case, the city of Tallahassee v. Police Benevolent Association, has drawn attention from government and media lawyers. “It really goes to the core of why we have open government laws and the public’s ability to conduct oversight of government action,” said Tampa lawyer Mark Caramanica. Marsy's Law is a state constitutional amendment intended to protect crime victims and their survivors from torment by keeping personal information private. It was approved by Florida voters in 2018. Police agencies began to claim that officers in threatening situations are also victims who need protection, even if their victims are dead. The Supreme Court will decide whether police can keep identifying information out of the public domain. In October 2020, police departments started asserting they have victim privacy protection. At least half of Florida’s 30 biggest police agencies routinely withhold officers’ names. When challenged, they rely on Marsy’s Law. “Officers sustained no injuries in at least half of the incidents for which they claimed victims’ rights, records show," found a USA Today/ProPublica investigation.

On appeal, the First District Court decided police fit under the law's definition of "victim." Then it went to the Supreme Court, which signaled the justices either want to reverse the First District Court or they want all state judges to comply with the decision. Many media groups and companies are supporting the city's bid for a reversal. “Overall, Marsy’s Law was designed with a legitimate purpose: to put crime victim rights on more equal footing with those of their criminal defendant victimizers,” attorney Carol Jean LoCicero wrote. “But it should not be warped into a vehicle to shield government actors, imbued with the authority to wield lethal force, from public scrutiny, particularly when the ‘victimizer’ is killed by the ‘victim.’ ” The Supreme Court’s evolving approach to privacy and public records troubles retired government lawyer Sharyn Smith. Marsy's Law honors the life of 21-year-old Marsalee Ann Nicholas, who was shot by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. When the shooter was out on bail, he had tracked down and terrorized Marsy's mother in a grocery store.


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