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Questions surround interpretation of Florida's Marsy's Law

Posted at 8:21 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 20:21:29-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Questions are swirling over using Marsy's Law to protect law enforcement officers. The law passed by voters three years ago with the intention to protect victims of crime when it comes to things like their privacy and being treated fairly. However, following three deadly officer-involved shootings in 2020, many were left wondering if an officer on the job falls under the protection.

On Tuesday, the First District Court of Appeals ruled law enforcement can claim protection under Marsy's Law. That ruling overturned a September decision from a Leon County Circuit Judge granting the City of Tallahassee permission to release the names of the officers in those deadly shootings.

Despite the ruling, the First Amendment Foundation, an intervener in the case, does not believe that should apply to law enforcement officers.

"I think it'll make it harder for the public to hold law enforcement accountable and to know if they've used force before. If they have, that can be withheld. Any complaints and investigations where they're determined a victim, the public has no way of knowing that," said First Amendment Foundation Staff Attorney Virginia Hamrick.

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 three deadly shootings from being released. The local police union argued those officers were victimized before shooting the suspects.

In March, ABC 27 spoke with Tallahassee Police Department Chief Lawrence Revell about the law before Tuesday's decision was made.

"I know there are sheriffs and chiefs who do believe that when you become a police officer you give up those rights. But I don't believe that we're any less a civilian as citizens just because we're police officers," said Chief Revell.

The First Amendment Foundation says if an officer is exempt under the law, it goes against public records standards to be forthcoming and transparent.

"There are already public records exemptions for law enforcement officers," said Hamrick.

Under Florida Statute 119, law enforcement and their family's photos, phone numbers, and addresses are exempt from public record.

Marsy's Law for Florida released a brief statement to ABC 27 following the ruling, saying

“The 1st District Court of Appeal’s has made its ruling, and we respect the will of the court.”
Jennifer Fennell

The City of Tallahassee and its interveners on the case are still weighing the options of taking it further to the Florida Supreme Court.

Chief Revell said he believes it'll go that far in order to settle on a less vague interpretation.