Court Says Two Cops Who Deployed Deadly Force Can Use Florida's Victims' Rights Law To Hide Their Names From The Public

from the good-intentions,-awful-outcomes dept

Laws written with good intentions are being used in bad faith by public servants hoping to shield themselves from public scrutiny. Multiple states have passed versions of “Marsy’s Law” — legislation that grants more rights to victims of crime, including blocking the release of personal info under the theory this will protect victims’ privacy and head off abuse and harassment.

Law enforcement officers have discovered this law and legislators’ seeming unwillingness to exempt public employees from these protections. And, since officers are often able to claim every violent act they’ve engaged in was predicated by a criminal act by the suspect they’ve deployed force against, they’re able to claim they were “victims” of crimes, even if the crime was nothing more than the grab bag of charges commonly known as “contempt of cop.”

We saw this law put to work a few years ago in South Dakota. An officer, who shot an arrestee two times, was able to keep their name private despite being engaged in public service and presumably putting their name on official reports about the incident — reports that would be considered public records.

It has happened again, this time in Florida. Two officers who deployed deadly force against arrestees — represented by their police union — have successfully sued to keep their names secret. The Florida Court of Appeal says the victims’ rights enacted by the law are constitutional and the withholding of these officers’ name is completely justified. (via Volokh Conspiracy)

The lower court’s decision coming down on the side of transparency and accountability has been reversed. Here’s how the lower court summed it up:

The Court finds that the explicit language of Marsy’s Law was not intended to apply to law enforcement officers when acting in their official capacity.

[…]

The officers do not seek protection from the wouldbe accuseds, instead they apparently seek protection from possible retribution for their on-duty actions from unknown persons in the community. This type of protection is outside the scope of Marsy’s Law and is inconsistent with the express purpose and language of the amendment. This Court cannot interpret Marsy’s Law to shield police officers from public scrutiny of their official actions.

Unfortunately, this court can interpret the law this way. It says the lower court misread the conflict between the state’s victims’ rights law and the public’s right to “inspect or copy records of any state of local agency.” The Appeals Court [PDF] says the newer law (the victims’ right law) supersedes the older public records law (emphasis in the original).

Article I, section 16 can be construed in harmony with article I, section 24(a)—without excluding from the definition of crime victim any person entitled to protection under article I, section 16. Article I, section 24(a) describes the broad right to inspect or copy public records in Florida:

Every person has the right to inspect or copy any public record made or received in connection with the official business of any public body, officer, or employee of the state, or persons acting on their behalf, except with respect to records exempted under this section or specifically made confidential by this Constitution.

The Appeals Court says older laws can be altered by newer laws, and residents’ overwhelming support of the state’s Marsy’s Law (61% of voters) suggests the state as a whole desired the new law to protect every criminal victim, even public servants charged with arresting suspected criminals.

The court says the police can police themselves. It does not need the assistance of the public that has been locked out by this use of the victims’ rights law.

This does not mean that the public cannot hold law enforcement officers accountable for any misconduct. Maintaining confidential information about a law enforcement officer who is a crime victim would not halt an internal affairs investigation nor impede any grand jury proceedings. Nor would it prevent a state attorney from reviewing the facts and considering whether the officer was a victim. If a prosecutor determines that the officer was not a victim and instead charges the officer for his conduct, then the officer would forfeit the protections…

But these are all state and local actions that — while nominally performed to benefit the public — rarely involve direct public participation or result in outcomes that approach any widely understood definition of “accountability.”

This may be the correct ruling inasmuch as that’s what the law says. But it’s certainly not keeping with the spirit of the law, which was supposed to protect crime victims, not shield public employees from accountability. Legislators who’ve enacted these laws around the nation need to amend them to ensure this sort of abuse ceases.

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Comments on “Court Says Two Cops Who Deployed Deadly Force Can Use Florida's Victims' Rights Law To Hide Their Names From The Public”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

And I might win the lottery while struck by lighting too...

This does not mean that the public cannot hold law enforcement officers accountable for any misconduct. Maintaining confidential information about a law enforcement officer who is a crime victim would not halt an internal affairs investigation nor impede any grand jury proceedings. Nor would it prevent a state attorney from reviewing the facts and considering whether the officer was a victim. If a prosecutor determines that the officer was not a victim and instead charges the officer for his conduct, then the officer would forfeit the protections…

And the easter bunny might ride in on a unicorn to present a pot of leprechaun gold to the actual victims to help with any bills they might have, something I’d give higher odds of happening.

More often than not the only thing that motivates an internal investigation is public outrage, likewise getting a prosecutor to go after a cop takes public pressure, so the idea that if the public doesn’t know then there’s still a chance for accountability to be had is nothing less than a pipe dream from someone either woefully naive or willfully blind to reality.

If ‘you’ve been accused of murder, that means you are the victim’ is a valid reading of the law then that just shows that it is in dire need of re-writing to close such a glaring loophole, because even as the law has majority support I can’t help but suspect that even those that supported it might not be too keen on it being used by (theoretical) public servants to hide their actions from those paying them, all the more so when those actions involve body counts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: And I might win the lottery while struck by lighting too...

If ‘you’ve been accused of murder, that means you are the victim’ is a valid reading of the law

That’s the entire intent of the law. To allow the defense to claim "victim" status and hide from public persecution.

Which really should be a wake up call, to the society that found a need for such a law to exist in the first place, that their treatment of suspects or persons of interest in ongoing cases was well beyond innocent until priven guilty. Alas it seems beyond the US to realize that letting the courts do their job is how a modern justice system is supposed to work. A statement only further backed by their cops being allowed to execute unarmed indivdiuals on a regular basis. Oh my bad. "Self defence in fear of their lives!" (TM)

This should have been fully expected by those proposing the law. I’m certain it’s exactly how some questionable politicians assumed it would be used.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Whether to laugh or cry...

So let me get this straight; In theory – and probable practice, given what we already have of US law enforcement history – a police officer can pull a George Floyd and then claim anonymity because the officer himself considers himself victimized while the alleged offender is lying with a tag on his toe?

This adds whole new levels to the concept of "entitled snowflakes". Are the cops all republicans?

Anonymous Coward says:

i had to shoot him. now i"m a victim!

the victims rights laws are to protect victims of crime! NOT protect CRIMINALS that are masquerading as the blue lies mafia! to sit here and tell WE THE PEOPLE that when the blue lies mafia KILLS someone that they are in some twisted reality of a stretch of the imagination are a victim is like saying that a cat that just caught mouse is a victim of circumstance. the law is intended to protect VICTIMS, not public servants pretending to do there job!
when ever there is a law that can be used and abused the blue lies mafia will find a way to exploit it beyond the scope of what it was written for! kind of like "civil asset forfeiture".

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: i had to shoot him. now i"m a victim!

"…the victims rights laws are to protect victims of crime!"

The crime of being brown in public, being poor, looking like you have an attitude, breathing in a threatening manner or otherwise presenting a clear and present danger to our brave boys in blue?

Think of the poor police officers. They are fearing for their lives. The least they can ask is to not be recognized for their actions on behalf of White America.

Upstream (profile) says:

Joke-a-Thon

Joke 1)

This does not mean that the public cannot hold law enforcement officers accountable for any misconduct.

Jokes 2) and 3)

Maintaining confidential information about a law enforcement officer who is a crime victim would not halt an internal affairs investigation nor impede any grand jury proceedings.

Joke 4)

Nor would it prevent a state attorney from reviewing the facts and considering whether the officer was a victim.

Joke 5)

If a prosecutor determines that the officer was not a victim and instead charges the officer for his conduct, then the officer would forfeit the protections…

Ha Ha! This Appeals Court is just a barrel of laughs!

Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Joke-a-Thon

To be honest, all of these claims are true.
"This" (as in "this judgment) doesn’t cause the cops to be shielded from legal actions.
It just so happens that cops are (generally) not prosecuted anyway, regardless of their names being made public or not. And that state attorneys do tend to consider cops as "victims" of the corpses they created. (Dying is pretty disrespectful after all. You might even stain their uniforms with your blood.)

Also, this has recently been changing. A little. When a case is too public. But that is still the exception rather than the norm.

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