Our Position: The ever-broadening use of Marsy’s Law is becoming quite absurd and lawmakers need to act.
Somehow, we guessed it would come to this.
Not long ago, someone robbed a bank in Sarasota County. Deputies rushed to the scene at the bank on Tamiami Trail. With the help of witnesses, they located the suspect, Sebastian I. Veres, and arrested him.
What makes this incident so interesting, is the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office refused to release the name of the bank.
They cited Marsy’s Law as the reason, claiming the bank was a victim and under that law can refuse to have its identity revealed.
We are not making this up.
The police said a building, an institution was the victim of a crime. The public has no right to know which bank was robbed.
For a year now, law enforcement agencies have embraced Marsy’s Law to deny the public information we believe they should have. It is a problem we’ve written about before and we’ll continue to write about it until the issue is taken up by the Florida Legislature or an appeal of a circuit judge’s ruling is decided.
Marsy’s Law, for the record, was placed in the state constitution following the passage of Amendment 6 in 2018. The law gives victims of a crime the right to have information withheld from any public record that could be used to locate them or harass them. It also granted them the right to full restitution and the right to be informed of the status of a suspect or person convicted of the crime against them and so on.
Police, including Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight and most other sheriffs and police chiefs in the state, have used the law to withhold the names of officers involved in shootings — including shootings that resulted in the death of civilians. More than once, a Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office deputy has had to fire a weapon that resulted in the death of a suspect. The names of those deputies, or officers, have never been released.
In most cases, it appears there was no reason to doubt the need to fire the weapon. The officers were likely heroes. Yet their identities were kept secret.
We believe that is a gross misinterpretation of the law. A Leon County judge agreed with us.
The judge ruled this summer on a police officer whose named was withheld after he/she shot and killed a suspect who allegedly stabbed a man to death before pointing a gun at the officer. The circumstances certainly appear to justify the officer’s actions. Yet his or her name was never revealed.
Judge Charles Dobson found Marsy’s Law does not apply to officers on duty. He determined that is part of their job and they are not victims of a crime as Prummell, Knight and other sheriffs and police chiefs are claiming.
The Florida Police Benevolent Association sued the city of Tallahassee to block the judge’s ruling from being carried out. They, of course, side with those who believe officers can be declared victims.
The suit, to our knowledge, is still winding its way through the court system. We anxiously await a conclusion.
Florida lawmakers need to clarify the implications of Marsy’s Law — something they’ve been unwilling to do. If they continue to ignore the problem, likely to appease the state’s police lobby, then we have to hope the court’s ruling will take care of it.