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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Should Marsy's Law victim privacy extend to Florida law enforcement? One lawmaker says yes

The Tallahassee Police Department will not be working so closely with the Citizens Police Review Board anymore
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The Tallahassee Police Department will not be working so closely with the Citizens Police Review Board anymore

Should law enforcement officers be able to claim Marsy's Law victim privacy protections if they’re threatened with violence while on the job? That’s the question before state lawmakers in a new legislative proposal. It's a response to a recent Florida Supreme Court that says, no.

Should law enforcement officers be able to claim victim protection if they’re threatened with violence while on the job? That’s the question before state lawmakers in a new legislative proposal. It's a response to a recent Florida Supreme Court ruling over the state’s Marsy’s Law.

Marsy's Law is a bill of rights and protections for crime victims. It was approved by Florida voters through a constitutional amendment in 2018 and among its protections: anonymity for crime victims. In 2020, two Tallahassee police officers were involved in a shooting and they tried to claim victim privacy protections. The City of Tallahassee wanted to release their names, but the law enforcement unions argued those officers were crime victims and went to court to block the release. The issue divided law enforcement organizations and eventually made its way to the Florida Supreme Court where attorney Luke Newman argued that law enforcement officers are people too, and that his clients were each threatened with death, resulting in shooting the suspect.

“Both men were attacked and essentially unprovoked with homicidal violence. Both of my clients responded with force. They both shot, they both killed their attackers. Each and and affirmatively opted into the protections of Marsy’s Law,” Newman argued before Florida's high court in November.

The Florida Supreme Court ultimately decided that an officer, who is doing their job at the time, is NOT a crime victim. But state Rep. Charles Brannan, R-Macclenney, wants to change that. He’s got a proposal that would extend Marsy’s Law protections to law enforcement officers–specifically, the protection of anonymity. Brannan is a former U.S. Marshall.

But First Amendment Foundation of Florida director Bobby Block argues Brannan’s proposal is dangerous.

"What we oppose in this legislation is the designation of law enforcement and correctional officers who are involved in incidents where somebody is hurt or died that they get to claim. that they are victims too. We do not agree. These are public servants who this is their job and if they are, if they're involved in shootings in the line of their work, I do not believe they have the right to be considered victims," said Block.

Barbara Peterson, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, also believes law enforcement officers should not receive victim confidentiality.

"Law enforcement officers are trained, to handle crimes and to handle suspects and to you know, handle themselves in dangerous situations. They wear protective gear, they've got tasers, they've got batons, they've got guns, they're trained and to say that any law enforcement officer who's engaged in any level of confrontation, while on duty should be protected is going to undermine the public's confidence," she said.

Brannan, the bill sponsor, says he’s still working on the proposal. It has yet to have a committee hearing, nor is there a Senate companion. The group, Marsy’s Law for Florida, issued a statement in response to WFSU’s inquiry. The group spearheaded the victim protection effort and says while it strongly supports the right of victims to keep their names confidential, “it’s imperative the legislation balance and address the public’s rights to know when their government has used physical force in the execution of their duties.”

WFSU also reached out to the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Police Benevolent Association. A sheriffs association spokesperson says they haven’t taken a position on the measure. And the Florida Police Benevolent Association never responded to a request for comment. Still, the issue looms. In Tallahassee, the officers involved in the 2020 shootings that triggered the original lawsuit, have still not been named.

Copyright 2024 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Richard Brown