FLORIDA – Since 2018, Law Enforcement and other agencies have been shielded from releasing the identities of crime victims because of Marsy's Law, but all that changed yesterday, when the Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled to amend the law.
Marsy's Law went into effect five years ago and was intended to protect the identities of law enforcement officers and victims of crime, but the Florida Supreme Court says, "We conclude that Marsy's Law does not guarantee to a victim the categorical right to withhold his or her name from disclosure. In their ordinary and plain usage, the relevant words of our Constitution, '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' do not encompass the victim's identity."
Media outlets, including R News, have been at a disadvantage because Marsy's Law obstructs the First Amendment and prevents critical information from being released to the public. Some law enforcement agencies, like the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, went beyond the law's intended purpose and would redact crime scene locations or just deny the release of a report in its entirety. Essentially, Public Information Officers (PIOs) had become nothing more than social media managers and entertainment directors because disseminating public information was no longer part of their job description.
First Amendment and Criminal Defense Attorney Jonah Dickstein tells R News, "I voted for Marsy's Law and I'm still glad I did, but that law never suggested accusers should remain totally anonymous. Indeed, doing that would create a danger to civil liberties in its own right." Dickstein continues, "So, I'm proud of the Florida Supreme Court for finding the correct interpretation of Marsy's Law."
R News reached out to the Hernando County School District, County Clerk's Office and Sheriff's Office for comment but at the time of this publication we have not received a response.
Any agency, district, or office will have 15 days to file an appeal.
The decision to reverse Marsy's Law in Florida is a win for journalists and defenders of the First Amendment. Marsy's Law was being weaponized by some law enforcement agencies to give them special privileges and stifle free speech. The all-conservative panel of justices made the right decision without pressure from lobbyist or special interest groups.