Tampa Bay Times by Tony Marrero
January 16, 2019
TAMPA — Last week, two people were found dead in a car near Busch Gardens. Both had been shot.
Had the homicides happened a day earlier, the Tampa Police Department would have released the names, dates of birth and addresses of the victims to the public after detectives notified family members. But under an interpretation of a new amendment to the Florida Constitution, the department and some other law enforcement agencies are now withholding basic information about crime victims that otherwise would be public record in Florida.
It’s one example of the confusion round Amendment 6 that has law enforcement agencies across the state asking the Legislature to pass a clarifying bill.
Meantime, open government advocates say the amendment conflicts with existing law and constitutional requirements, reduces transparency in the criminal justice system and is too vague to trigger the withholding of public records by government agencies.
“I understand their dilemma and I understand there’s not a lot of clarity right now,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation.
“But they cannot willfully deny access to a request for public records unless there is specific constitutional or statutory authority, and this amendment does not provide that authority,”
Passed in November by 62 percent of Florida voters, Amendment 6 was modeled after a similar measure in California known as Marsy’s Law. The 11 rights outlined in the amendment include consideration of a victim’s safety when authorities set bail or pretrial release for the accused and informing a victim of developments in the prosecution.
The amendment’s potential effect on access to public records, including the news media’s ability to gather and report information in the early stages of a case, received little attention in the campaign leading up to the vote.