Law Enforcement Isn’t Required to Withhold Victims’ Names

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida law enforcement agencies began refusing to publicly release crime victims’ names after voters passed a victims’ rights constitutional amendment, but the state Supreme Court ruled on Thursday they weren’t required to do so.

Legally, the name of a crime victim doesn’t have to be withheld from the public, the court ruled. The amendment, rather, protects information that could be used to locate and harass a victim.

“One’s name, standing alone, is not that kind of information or record; it communicates nothing about where the individual can be found and bothered,” the court ruled.

Marsy’s Law was passed by voters five years ago and allows crime victims or their families to request their names be withheld from public documents. The ruling was on a case focused on whether Tallahassee police officers who fatally shot armed suspects could claim they were crime victims, and thus prevent the city from releasing their names. But the court ruled that the question of whether the officers were victims doesn’t have to be answered because Marsy’s Law doesn’t protect victims’ identities.

The ruling could have wider implications for news agencies and others seeking details about a crime. While agencies wouldn’t have to voluntarily provide the information if not asked, they would have to provide victims’ names if a request is made under the state’s public records laws.

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“Now we can push back,” said Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability and a legal expert on open government laws. “We can say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, the Florida Supreme Court has said you have to release this information.””

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