By Margo Kirchner
The Supreme Court of Florida on Nov. 30 held that police officers involved in shootings cannot keep their names from the public under a Florida victims’ rights constitutional provision.
The constitutional provision, known as Marsy’s Law, does not guarantee to a victim a “categorical right to withhold his or her name,” the court said.
Marsy’s Law has been adopted as a constitutional amendment in similar forms in several states, including Wisconsin.
The Florida version provides that victims, starting at the time of victimization, have 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.”
The court concluded that protection of information that could be used to locate or harass does “not encompass the victim’s identity.” “(I)t is one thing to identify a person and another altogether to locate or harass him or her,” the court wrote. “One’s name, standing alone . . . communicates nothing about where the individual can be found and bothered.”
The court noted that another constitutional provision regarding release of medical records and statutes regarding confidential informants expressly address protection of identity, while Marsy’s Law does not. In addition, an interpretation allowing withholding of identities would conflict with an accused’s rights to confront adverse witnesses at trial, said the court.
The case arose from two City of Tallahassee police shootings for which officers claimed self-defense. The men shot by police did not survive. Grand juries investigated and concluded that the shootings were justified.
Reporters sought the names of the officers. The city planned to release them, but the Florida Police Benevolent Association sought an injunction against release, arguing that the officers were victims of the decedents’ attacks and under Marsy’s Law could keep their names from being disclosed.
Wisconsin’s version of Marsy’s Law does not contain a provision barring disclosure of information that could be used to locate or harass a victim. Wisconsin’s version instead grants victims the right to privacy.
Oshkosh police and some other Wisconsin police departments with officer shootings involving self-defense claims have been citing that right to privacy as a basis for withholding officers’ names from the press and public.
The Florida case is City of Tallahassee v. Florida Police Benevolent Association, Inc.
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