Las Vegas Review-Journal by Editorial Board
January 28, 2019
With the best of intentions, Nevadans overwhelmingly passed Marsy’s Law last November, a constitutional amendment intended to provide rights for crime victims. Several other states have enacted the measure.
But as the protections spread across the country, it has become apparent that Marsy’s Law has ramifications extending beyond simply helping crime victims cope with their circumstances.
Last week, five women were murdered during a bank shooting in Sebring, Florida. The 21-year-old suspect had a history of deranged behavior. But the tragedy had a secondary angle: The police chief in Sebring refused to release the names of some of those killed, citing privacy concerns as provided under Marsy’s Law, which Florida voters approved last year.
This is not the first time the law has been cited to justify keeping information from the public. In October, the South Dakota attorney general refused to identify a state trooper who had shot a motorist twice during a traffic stop. Under Marsy’s Law, the attorney general said, the state was free to keep confidential virtually all details about the officer involved.
The ACLU reports that South Dakota law enforcement agencies have also cited Marsy’s Law while refusing to release vehicle accident reports for insurance claims. Meanwhile, “In California, media outlets had to take a lawsuit all the way up to the state Supreme Court just to establish that law enforcement couldn’t simply conceal the names of officers who had been involved in shootings,” Reason.com reported last year.
“Is it really necessary for the public to have the names of all the victims to understand what’s happening down there?” Paul Cassell, a University of Utah professor and victims’ rights advocate, asked The Associated Press regarding the Florida shooting.
But if law enforcement officials, courts or prosecutors increasingly suppress information under the guise of protecting victims, this could indeed jeopardize the public’s ability to “understand what’s happening.” Secrecy erodes accountability and fosters corruption, leaving taxpayers unable to judge whether those involved in the justice system are performing their duties in an appropriate manner.