Officers in lethal force incidents not covered by Marsy’s Law, Florida Supreme Court rules

by | Nov 30, 2023



  • The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Marsy’s Law, an amendment meant to protect crime victims’ rights, cannot be used by police officers involved in lethal force incidents to hide their identities from the public.
  • This ruling was predicated upon the interpretation that Marsy’s Law doesn’t provide a categorical right for victims to remain anonymous and doesn’t supersede fundamental principles like public record access and the right to confrontation in criminal proceedings.
  • Thursday’s decision overturns a prior ruling by the First District Court of Appeal.

In a prominent ruling issued on Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court clarified the scope of Marsy’s Law, concluding that police officers involved in lethal force incidents cannot use this amendment to shield their identities from public disclosure.

In the decision, a 6-0 ruling, Justice John Couriel wrote that Marsy’s Law does not provide a blanket right for victims to withhold their names from the public domain, specifying that the law’s intention was not to create an anonymous class of crime victims and that there was no textual evidence in the law to suggest a categorical exemption for victims’ names from disclosure.

“Marsy’s Law guarantees to no victim—police officer or otherwise— the categorical right to withhold his or her name from disclosure,” Couriel wrote. “No such right is enumerated in the text of article I, section 16(b) of the Florida Constitution … We decide only what Marsy’s Law says and does not say; we do not pass upon the validity of any statutory right of certain persons, in certain situations, to withhold their identities from disclosure.”

The ruling hinged on interpreting Marsy’s Law within the broader context of the Florida Constitution. The court found that public access to records and confrontation rights in criminal proceedings are fundamental principles that Marsy’s Law does not supersede. Thursday’s decision overturns an earlier ruling by the First District Court of Appeal, which had sided with the Police Benevolent Association.

The case, brought to the Supreme Court by the City of Tallahassee against the Florida Police Benevolent Association, stemmed from two incidents in which officers used lethal force. The Association sought to prevent the city from releasing the officers’ names, arguing that the officers were “victims” under Marsy’s Law and thus entitled to anonymity.

“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,” art. I, § 16(b)(5), Fla. Const., do not encompass the victim’s identity,” Couriel continued.

Marsy’s Law, an amendment to the Florida Constitution passed in 2018, was designed to protect crime victims’ rights, including safeguarding their information from public release to prevent harassment. However, the application of this law to police officers acting in the line of duty became a contentious issue.

Marsy’s Law in Florida, adopted in 2018 as an amendment to the state constitution with 61 percent of voters voting in favor, sought to enhance the rights and protections of crime victims. Named after Marsalee Nicholas, a murder victim from California, the law provides for victims’ privacy, ensures their right to be heard in criminal proceedings, mandates timely notification of case developments, guarantees full restitution, and offers protection from the accused.

While intended to ensure fairness and respect for crime victims in the justice process, Marsy’s Law has sparked legal debates, particularly regarding its implications for public information access and law enforcement transparency.

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