Questions dot implementation of ‘Marsy’s Law’

The Ledger by Kathy Leigh

February 9, 2019

LAKELAND — With the passage of Amendment 6, Florida voters accepted a slate of victims’ rights rules known as Marsy’s Law, but implementing the new criminal justice regulations is leaving many questions for local officials trying to decipher what it means and who is ultimately responsible.

Donald G. Jacobsen, Chief Judge for Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit Court, said he does not believe Marsy’s Law changes much of what has occurred in the past regarding the rights of victims, but instead “formalizes” a lot of what had been “implied.”

Under prior law, victims had many rights to have their voice heard in the judicial process, he said, including that the names of victims of sex crimes are redacted from reports, as well as most child victims’ names. However, under Marsy’s Law, any victim has the right to request that their name is withheld from records released to the public.

One concern, Jacobsen said, is how to implement that part of the law.

“The constitution amendment itself leads to further need for interpretation,” he said, noting there are efforts in Tallahassee courts to enact a system-wide implementation to the law so all agencies and government arms follow the same approach.

“The victim is given specific rights upon request,” Jacobsen said. “It does not say how they go about making that request, nor to whom they make the request.” The law also does not specify if they have to repeatedly make that request at different stages of the judicial process, or if it is just a one-time specification.

Then there is the issue that the accused has a U.S. Constitutional right to confront their accuser, so the victim’s name could not be withheld from the accuser.

“That is comparing the constitutional right of the accused, and the now constitutional right of the victim,” Jacobsen said.

Even the definition of a victim may need to be refined.

There are individuals who are victims, such as someone who has been assaulted or battered, then there are victims that are not people, for example, banks or businesses.

Jacobsen said much of what is required by the law will fall upon the State Attorney’s Office and law enforcement to accomplish.

“There will also be the necessary coordination between the State Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, the Clerk of Courts office and the courts. Most everything done from the court’s point of view is already public record and contained in the court file maintained by the Clerk’s office.”

Nick Sudzina, trial court administrator for the 10th Judicial Circuit, who presently has the responsibility of notifying the victims of different court hearings as well as other events that happen in the judicial process, said one question he has about Marsy’s Law is whether victims have to request to be notified, or is it automatically assumed?

According to Marsy’s Law for Florida, the organization that backed the amendment, Marsy’s Law requires that victims “be treated with dignity, respect, courtesy, sensitivity and fairness, gives victims standing in court, and provides for victims’ privacy.”

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