Florida’s Struggle to Keep Up with Marsy’s Law
May 23, 2022 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, News & Announcements Social Share
Although Marsy’s Law has been signed into the Florida Constitution since 2018, there are still issues surrounding the topic. Mainly, how to interpret the law into action within each circuit. As of now, it appears that several different counties are struggling to maintain a uniform process when it comes to Marsy’s Law.
We will briefly cover what is Marsy’s Law, the ongoing debate, and the different procedures that are being used by various counties.
What is Marsy’s Law?
In November 2018, Marsy’s Law was passed in Florida based on a similar law in California. This amended three articles while adding a new section to Florida’s Constitution. The law is meant to protect and broaden the rights of victims of crime. The rights are supposed to consider a victim’s safety, the right to due process, and preserving the confidentiality of the victim and their family, along with other rights you can find in our blog here.
Marsy’s Law defines a victim as any individual claiming to who have suffered direct or threatened physical, psychological, or financial harm as the result of a crime or attempted crime.
Now that the procedural rule has been approved by the Florida Supreme Court, it has put prosecutors at the center of the debate on whether or not to invoke Marsy’s Law, and when. So far with both prosecutors and police, it has been difficult to find a uniform way to decide how to invoke Marsy’s Law.
The Ongoing Debate on Marsy’s Law
The amendment of Florida’s Constitution that addresses Marsy’s Law, includes the prohibition of “the closure 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.” It has long been up for debate whether or not this right has been applied automatically.
Whenever government agencies file a court document that may contain confidential information about a victim, they are required to file a form to the clerk of courts to notify them to redact the personal information. It has since been questioned if the new rule answers the question of whether the information is automatically withheld, which has been up for debate since the law was approved.
State attorneys have been working toward interpreting the rule since the decision was made in November. For some, requests have been made to redact all of the victims’ information. Others have continued as usual, which means only asking for redactions when the victim requests it. Other than the initial charge, one office stopped filing documents completely due to their concern to staff redacting files..
As of now, it appears that the procedure has been different in each circuit, ranging from both ends of the spectrum. State Attorney Andrew Warren said, “We still don’t have a uniform application in how the laws are to be applied from circuit to circuit.”
Differing Measures in Different Counties
It seems as though each Florida county has differing methods for following Marsy’s law. The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office is starting to only use initials to refer to all victims, which was a practice previously used by some courts attempting to shield juveniles from the public eye.
Assistant State Attorney Christie Ellis told the Tampa Bay Times, “We looked at [the procedural rule as guidance] and got with our clerks office. And we tried to find a solution that would not cause enormous amounts of work for either side, but that we could comply with the law.”
For Palm Beach County in the 15th Judicial Circuit, Chief Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams believed that the rule for Marsy’s Law automatically includes all of the victims’ information. However, Williams addressed that his office doesn’t have the money or resources to file a notice of confidential information along with every court document. They have resorted to not filing any documents with names.
“The legislature gave us no money to comply with Marsy’s Law,” Williams explained, adding that there is a huge financial cost that comes with complying. However, Williams did explain that the lack of records could cause them problems in the future, but he thinks it is easier to deal with rather than filing every court document with a confidential crime victim information notice.
In Tallahassee’s 2nd Judicial Circuit, the state attorney uses an opt-in process for the victims of crime. This means that they notify the victims of their rights to privacy under Marsy’s Law. They also file notices of confidential victim information in both juvenile and sexual violence cases.
For the other large state attorney’s offices, they are still unsure about how to interpret the new rule.
Some circuits have already started planning on how to follow the policy more realistically. Spokesperson David Chapman, of the 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, gave the following comment:
“Now that we have a final rule to adhere to, our office is working to formulate a uniform policy that will work for all three counties (Clay, Duval, and Nassau) to comply with the law. We are anticipating that policy will be finalized this summer and will have the input of attorneys, victims advocates, paralegals, and staff.”
In addition, Chapman stated that there are not many documents filed that would contain confidential victim information in the Jacksonville metropolitan area.
Virginia Hamrick, First Amendment Foundation Staff Attorney, described how there is still a large amount of uncertainty circling Marsy’s Law, which includes when to withhold information, for how long, and which rights are deemed automatic.
“All of that is just so up in the air,” Hamrick said. “And as a result, different circuits are doing different things.”
Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida
If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, your first step should be reaching out to a skilled defense attorney in your area. Dealing with a criminal charge can be extremely stressful, and luckily you don’t have to go it alone. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm understand what it takes to provide top-quality legal advice. They will stand in your corner and fight for your freedom. Call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today for a free consultation.
Written by Karissa Key