TALLAHASSEE – Siding with a union that represents law-enforcement officers, a state appeals court on Tuesday unanimously decided that a constitutional amendment expanding victims’ rights can shield the identities of police officers who were threatened in use-of-force incidents.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of two Tallahassee police officers who maintained that, as victims, they were entitled to privacy protections included in the 2018 constitutional amendment known as “Marsy’s Law.”
“Everybody should be happy,” said Steve Zona, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Jacksonville. “Whether you’re against us or not you should be happy that the Constitution is being upheld.”
The lawsuit was the first major test of whether Marsy’s Law conflicts with a decades-old government-in-the-sunshine amendment that enshrined in the Florida Constitution some of the nation’s broadest public-records laws.
But in Tuesday’s 13-page decision, Judge Lori Rowe wrote that no conflict exists.
Nothing in the 2018 constitutional amendment “excludes law enforcement officers --- or other government employees --- from the protections granted crime victims,” Rowe wrote in a ruling joined by Judges Timothy Osterhaus and Robert Long.
A police officer “meets the definition of a crime victim” under Marsy’s Law “when a crime suspect threatens the officer with deadly force, placing the officer in fear for his life,” Rowe added.
“That the officer acts in self-defense to that threat does not defeat the officer’s status as a crime victim. And thus as a crime victim, such an officer has the right to keep confidential ‘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,’” she wrote, referring to some of the victims’ rights spelled out in the constitutional amendment.