Victims’ rights laws are abused again to hide the identities of officers who killed someone

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from one-of-the-few-laws-the-cops-actually-know department

Ten states are currently home to a version of California’s “Marsy’s Law”. This law is a “victims’ rights” law, named after a murder victim in California. It was drafted with the aim of involving victims of crime in the criminal justice process, giving them the “right” to be heard during legal proceedings, to choose their own representation (rather than being only represented by the prosecution) and – as is most relevant here – preventing the names of victims of crime from being made public.

This is where these laws came in handy for cops. When cops use excessive force (including killing people), the person subjected to police brutality is often prosecuted with criminal charges. Resistance to arrest is popular. The same goes for “assaulting an officer”, which can mean no more than someone being hit by an officer while in custody. Since these are criminal charges, the cops turn into victims, despite having committed far more violence than the person they’re restraining (to death, in some cases).

States with victim rights laws allow officers to prevent their names from being published by news outlets covering fatal incidents. Since cops are nominal “victims”, the law applies to them. A South Dakota law enforcement officer used state law to keep his name out of the newspapers after shooting a driver during a traffic stop.

The same thing happened in Florida a few years later. Two cops who used lethal force successfully convinced a judge that the state’s Marsy law applied to them – even overriding the public’s right to this information through state public records laws .

It happened again. Same state, same law, same result. Here’s Scott Shackford for Reason:

In Sarasota County, three deputies were sent to a condo in April to help evict 52-year-old Jeremiah Evans. According to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department report, Evans pulled out a knife and threatened the deputies. One of the deputies shot and killed Evans.

Prosecutors determined the shooting was justified. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune submitted a public records request to the state’s attorney’s office, and among the information they received was the unredacted last names of the deputies involved.

Then the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office swung into action, going to a judge to invoke Marsy’s Law to try to ban the newspaper from publishing the names of the officers involved. On Friday evening, a judge granted a temporary injunction preemptively prohibiting the newspaper from publishing the names of the officers. While it didn’t redact the names by accident, the state’s attorney’s office also backed the sheriff’s department and joined the action against the newspaper, essentially trying to pin the blame on the newspaper for the bureau’s alleged violation of the law.

The Herald-Tribune, which had already obtained some of this information (surnames only) from the Attorney General’s office, is rightly shocked by this turn of events. He filed a motion opposing that injunction — a backing from both the sheriff’s office and the state’s attorney — pointing out that it’s an unwarranted abuse of victim rights law. in the hope of obtaining memorial information already provided to the newspaper.

In the newspaper’s motion, the lawyers said nothing in Marsy’s law creates a private right of action against third parties or authorizes courts to “censure private persons, such as respondents.” If the release of deputies’ names violated Marsy’s law, according to the motion, the offender was the state’s attorney’s office, not the newspaper.

“The petitioners cite no case law that places Marsy’s law above the free speech guarantee of Article I, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution. And any reading of Marsy’s Law that prohibits the media from publishing publicly disclosed information would also bring Marsy’s Law into conflict with the United States Constitution,” the motion reads.

First and foremost, the law cannot be used to put the genie back in the bottle. The newspaper already has access to the surnames of the officers involved, thanks to a response from the state attorney’s office public records. The emergency injunction does not prevent the newspaper from publishing information it already has because the public release, as the newspaper points out, was done by the state’s attorney.

Second, the injunction process seems to have abandoned the concept of due process entirely. It was obtained by the sheriff and the state attorney without the possibility of input from the party directly affected by the injunction. The newspaper was not made aware of the injunction request and was not informed of law enforcement efforts until after the order was obtained. And it was obtained on Friday evening at 6:30 p.m., presumably to maximize the duration of the questionable opacity obtained, preventing the newspaper from engaging in any challenge to the order until the following Monday.

This is certainly not the way those who write these laws expect them to be used. But that’s what these laws allow when abused by officials who deploy lethal force: a greater gap between state law enforcement officers and the already distant accountability that rarely serves to deter future misconduct.

Filed Under: cops, florida, marsy’s law, sarasota, victims rights

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