Marsy’s Law prompts TPD to clamp down on crime victim information

Tallahassee Democrat by Jeff Burlew

January 16, 2019

More than four days have passed since someone was run over and killed on a central thoroughfare in one of Tallahassee’s oldest neighborhoods. But the general public still has no idea who died, let alone who was behind the wheel.

Exactly what happened in the pre-dawn hours near the roundabout on Killarney Way remains a mystery. And it’s unlikely to be cleared up anytime soon because of the Tallahassee Police Department’s interpretation of Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by Florida voters in November that’s ignited a firestorm of First Amendment concerns since it went into effect Jan. 8.

The amendment extends a host of new rights to crime victims, including the right for them to be heard during court proceedings. It also includes a provision granting victims “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.”

Those 35 words, now enshrined in Florida’s Constitution, are causing confusion among law enforcement agencies across the state and prompting calls for the Legislature to step in and clarify. One major question is whether crime victims are automatically granted confidentiality or they have to ask for it first.

Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said Marsy’s Law is so vague that the Legislature will have to implement the law and put a public records exemption in statutes before law enforcement can properly interpret it.

“Frankly, until the Legislature passes a bill that creates the exemption — in other words, defines what this means — I don’t think law enforcement can rely on this very vague constitutional provision,” she said. “So right now, it’s really something of a mess because nobody knows what this means.”

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