Brannock Berman & Seider Secures Important Constitutional Ruling From Florida Supreme Court
In a first-of-its-kind opinion on the scope of Marsy’s Law—an amendment added in recent years to many state constitutions around the country—the Florida Supreme Court unanimously sided with arguments advanced by Brannock Berman & Seider on behalf of the City of Tallahassee.
The case centered on two incidents where Tallahassee police officers used deadly force in detaining a suspect. Following the incidents, each officer sought to prevent public disclosure of their name, invoking Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment adopted by Florida voters in 2018 that grants certain rights to victims of crime. One of those rights, and the one the officers relied on, is “to prevent the disclosure of 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.”
Disagreeing with the officers’ interpretations of Marsy’s Law, and believing that it was required under Florida’s broad Public Records Law to disclose the officers’ names, the City opposed the officers’ request to shield them. When the officers and their union sued to prevent the City from releasing their names in response to requests from the media, the trial court sided with the City, declining to issue an emergency injunction. But the First District Court of Appeal later reversed, finding that Marsy’s Law prevented the names from being released. The Florida Supreme Court then granted the City’s request to review the case.
Following extensive briefing and a spirited oral argument, the Supreme Court agreed with the City that Marsy’s Law “guarantees to no victim—police officer or otherwise—the categorical right to withhold his or her name from disclosure.” Adopting the City’s view of Marsy’s Law, the Supreme Court said that no right to prevent disclosure of a victim’s name is found within the text of the Florida Constitution, nor would any such right readily fit within other constitutional protections such as the right to confront adverse witnesses at trial or the public’s right to inspect public records. And because Marsy’s Law “does not guarantee to crime victims a generalized right to anonymity,” the Law “does not preclude the City from releasing the names of the two police officers.”
The Supreme Court’s decision, which drew significant press attention, is the most extensive analysis of Marsy’s Law by any state high court to date and is likely to be cited in many cases around the country in years to come.