Police Cannot Hide Identity Behind Marsy’s Law Per Florida Supreme Court:  The Implications From An Attorney’s Perspective

By December 15, 2023Blog, Civil Rights

Police Cannot Hide Identity Behind Marsy’s Law Per Florida Supreme Court:  The Implications From An Attorney’s Perspective

As a Brevard County attorney that advocates for all persons – including the criminally accused and victimsI often find myself at the intersection of individual rights and law enforcement accountability. The recent Florida Supreme Court decision regarding Marsy’s Law is a significant development in this delicate balance. The court’s unanimous decision that Marsy’sLaw cannot be used to shield the identities of police officers involved in deadly force incidents is a landmark ruling with far-reaching implications.

Marsy’s Law and Police Anonymity: A Misinterpretation Corrected

Marsy’s Law established rights for crime victims in Florida in 2018. Police departments then began using the law as justification to keep the names of individual officers from the public after police-related shootings and deaths. For example, after the death of Veteran Gregory Edwards following a use of force at the Brevard County Jail, Sheriff Wayne Ivey redacted the names of officers from publicly released reports under the justification that they were the victims of a crime Veteran Edwards’ resistance.  

In the recent landmark ruling, the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PFBA) filed an emergency injunction to keep the City of Tallahassee from releasing the names of two officers who fatally shot suspects. The City and First Amendment advocates argued that Marsy’s Law was never intended to allow officers to escape public scrutiny or accountability, especially in cases involving deadly force. The Supreme Court’s ruling aligns with this understanding:Marsy’s Law guarantees no victim – police officer or otherwise – the categorical right to withhold his or her name from disclosure.”  City of Tallahassee v. Fla. Police Benevolent Ass’n, SC2021-0651 (Nov. 30, 2023).

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office redacted from a use-of-force report the name of a deputy who pepper sprayed a man handcuffed to a hospital bed.

The Importance of Transparency in Law Enforcement

Transparency is crucial in law enforcement to maintain public trust and ensure justice. Police officers, endowed with significant authority, must be accountable to the public. Hiding their identities in use-of-force incidents could undermine this accountability, leading to mistrust and a lack of confidence in the system. The Supreme Court’s decision reinforces the necessity of transparency, particularly in cases involving the use of lethal force by police officers.

First Amendment Advocates and the Quest for Government Transparency

The ruling is a victory for First Amendment advocates and those who champion government transparency. By preventing the misuse of Marsy’s Law to conceal officers’ identities, the court has upheld the public’s right to be informed about law enforcement activities, especially in critical incidents like officer-involved shootings.

The Nationwide Impact of the Decision

This decision is not just a statewide matter; it has national implications. It sets a precedent for other states grappling with similar issues and sends a clear message about the limits of laws designed to protect crime victims. As such, it reinforces the notion that law enforcement is not above the law and must be subject to public scrutiny.

Balancing Victim Rights with Public Interest

While the primary intention of Marsy’s Law was to protect victims, it is essential to balance these protections with the public’s right to know, particularly in instances involving public servants like police officers. The Supreme Court stressed that crime victims still have the right to prevent disclosure of information that could be used to locate or harass them.  However, the decision rightly focuses on this balance, ensuring that victim rights do not overshadow the need for transparency in public institutions or the right of the criminally accused to confront witnesses..

A Step Towards Greater Accountability

As an attorney who fights for individual constitutional rights, I see this ruling as a step towards greater accountability in law enforcement. It is a reminder that while the rights of victims are paramount, they should not be used as a shield for those in positions of power to evade public scrutiny. The Florida Supreme Court’s decision is a commendable move in upholding the principles of transparency and accountability, essential in a just and fair legal system.

~Jessica J. Travis, Attorney www.DefendBrevard.comCriminal Defense, Personal Injury, Victim’s Rights, Public Records – Since 1999

This article is not intended to provide legal advice.  Consult an attorney if you need legal advice.