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Tallahassee Democrat: Marsy’s Law is doing exactly what it was meant to | Opinion

Monday, January 28, 2019

Last November, more than 60 percent of Florida voters put Marsy’s Law into the state constitution to afford victims meaningful rights in the justice system. Now law enforcement agencies across Florida, including the Tallahassee Police Department, are changing their policies and practices to comply with the new rights.

Among the changes: restricting the automatic disclosure of certain victim information in order to secure victims’ right to “prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass” them or “which could be used to disclose [their] confidential or privileged information.”

This change is squarely in line with U.S. Supreme Court guidance from many years ago. In cases tracing back to the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that it is constitutionally permissible for the state, including law enforcement, to protect a crime victim’s safety and privacy by not releasing certain information. Despite this, law enforcement’s actions are being portrayed as eroding the rights of the public and media.

It is important to remember, however, that there is no automatic, compelling right or need for the public to know everything about a crime victim – from their name to place of residence to gender. For victims, however, there is an automatic and often irreversible loss of privacy when such information is released into the public arena.

Further, once such information is public it can — and has — led to harassment, intimidation and continued victimization. The Tallahassee Police Department is taking steps to balance everyone’s rights — to honor victims’ rights while continuing to inform the public about crimes occurring and actions taken by law enforcement.

After decades of automatically sacrificing victims’ rights and witnessing the dysfunctions that result as survivors turned away from the system, we are evolving. Neither our justice system nor our communities need to demand of victims their routine and complete sacrifice of privacy.

Freedom of the press and privacy are deeply rooted in our country’s core values and traditions, and preservation of each is critical. These rights are not mutually exclusive. We can protect both.

Along the way we need to embrace this cultural change, this new balancing of rights. Rather than automatically subjecting victims to loss of privacy, the system now must protect victim privacy and safety so their rights are not lost irreversibly, and allow victims in our communities to feel and be safer while pursuing justice.

Meg Garvin is the executive director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute.

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