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Crime victims not entitled to anonymity under Marsy's Law, Florida's high court rules

Romy Ellenbogen, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI — The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Florida police officers and any other crime victims can’t shield their identity behind Marsy’s Law, the 2018 constitutional amendment meant to grant more rights to victims of crimes.

The ruling stemmed from two incidents in Tallahassee in 2020 in which officers fatally shot suspects. When reporters sought the names of the officers involved, the officers, backed by the Florida Police Benevolent Association, said the names should be exempt because they were assaulted by the people they shot, and therefore were victims.

In the opinion written by Justice John Couriel, the Supreme Court ruled that “Marsy’s Law does not guarantee to a victim the categorical right to withhold his or her name from disclosure.”

Couriel said that Marsy’s law speaks about a victim’s right to prevent information from being disclosed that could be used to “locate” them. He said providing a name alone “communicates nothing about where the individual can be found and bothered.”

The Marsy’s Law amendment, approved by about 62% of voters, gives crime victims more rights. It includes the right to “prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim.”

The court’s ruling applies not just to police officers, but to victims of crime broadly. In the opinion, Couriel writes that “there is no textual basis in Marsy’s Law for the idea that victims’ names are categorically immune from disclosure.”

 

The group Marsy’s Law for Florida expressed disappointment Thursday in the ruling being applied to all crime victims. The organization came out last month against using the law to protect the names of law enforcement officers who use force on duty, but said this ruling was too broad.

“With the technology available in today’s day and age, it defies common logic that access to a victim’s name cannot be used to locate or harass that victim,” spokesperson Jennifer Fennell said in a statement. “With this ruling, the Florida Supreme Court has removed a right which Florida crime victims have been using for nearly five years and have been relying on this protection for their own safety.”

Couriel wrote that the court’s ruling does not prevent the Legislature from expanding the law to exempt more information, but that Marsy’s Law as it stands does not “guarantee to crime victims a generalized right of anonymity.”

John Kazanjian, the president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, said he was shocked that the court interpretation lumped in the police officer question with victims in general. Kazanjian said lawmakers have been reaching out to him since the ruling was released, and that he intends to push for changes in the law.

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