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FL Supreme Court: Officers, victims names are not protected under Marsy's Law

Florida Supreme Court
Posted at 1:06 PM, Nov 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-01 06:20:32-05

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) — The identities of officers who used lethal force in two Tallahassee shooting cases in 2020 will not be protected under Marsy's law. That was the ruling released on Thursday from the Florida Supreme Court.

The unanimous ruling says Marsy's Law does not guarantee the protection of victim's names, law enforcement or otherwise.

Florida enacted a version of Marsy’s Law through a 2018 constitutional amendment.

After a series of demonstrations, calls for more transparency and media requests the city of Tallahassee was prepared to release the identities of officers involved in a pair of fatal shootings in May of 2020.

The Big Bend Police Benevolent Association filed the lawsuit against the City of Tallahassee in an effort to protect the identities of officers involved in those shootings from being released. The local police union argued those officers were victimized before shooting the suspects.

In September 2021, a Leon County Circuit Judge granted the City of Tallahassee permission to release the names of the officers. That ruling was later overturned by the First District Appeals court in April 2021.

The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in that case in December 2022.
In making their determination the court sought to answer one question about the victim's right law. Does it contain a right for victims to remain anonymous?

In today's the decision the court ruled that "Marsy’s Law does not guarantee to crime victims a generalized right of anonymity.
Marsy’s Law does not preclude the City from releasing the names of the two police officers whose conduct is at issue in this case. We quash the decision of the First District Court of Appeal and remand for further proceedings consistent with our decision.

While the court was asked to address several questions, the decision reads: "We need only answer the third question to resolve this case: Marsy’s Law guarantees to no victim—police officer or otherwise— the categorical right to withhold his or her name from disclosure. No such right is enumerated in the text of article I, section 16(b) of the Florida Constitution. Nor, as a matter of structure, would such a right readily fit with two other guarantees contained in article I: the right expressed in section 16(a) of the criminally accused 'to confront at trial adverse witnesses,' and the right found in section 24(a) of every person to inspect or copy public records.

We decide only what Marsy’s Law says and does not say; we do not pass upon the validity of any statutory right of certain persons, in certain situations, to withhold their identities from disclosure."

On May 19, 2020 a Tallahassee officer used deadly force in the confrontation with Wilbon Woodard, who they say was armed with a knife and charged at the officer who ultimately shot and killed him.

On May 27, 2020 a Tallahassee police officer shot and killed Tony McDade after they say he pointed a gun at the officer. McDade was suspected of stabbing another person to death.

In September of 2020, the Leon County Grand Jury ruled that the officers who shot and killed McDade, Woodard and a third person in a separate shooting were all justified in their use of force.

Statement by Jennifer Fennell, Spokesperson for Marsy’s Law for Florida

“While Marsy’s Law for Florida has been clear on its position regarding the release of names of on-duty law enforcement officers who have used physical force, the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that this be applied very generally to all crime victims is disappointing, especially as they recognize in this same ruling that certain categories of victims have the right to prevent the public disclosure of their names.
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.
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.”