Individual officer names are vital for the public's ability to evaluate not only the officer's history of the use of force, but also the agency's treatment and discipline of its officers.
A circuit court in Leon County ruled that the Florida constitutional provision known as “Marsy's Law” could not be used to shield the names of on-duty law enforcement officers. The ruling
arose from a lawsuit by the Police Benevolent Association ("PBA") and two “John Doe” police officers who sued the City of Tallahassee to prevent the disclosure of their names. Both officers had been involved in separate on-duty police shootings resulting in the deaths of two civilians. The PBA and officers argued that because the officers were threatened with deadly force, they were "victims" of an aggravated assault under Marsy's Law, which contains a provision that permits a "victim" to prevent the disclosure of information that could be used to locate or harass a victim.
Representing the First Amendment Foundation, Florida Press Association, Gannett Co., Inc., the Miami Herald Media Company, and The New York Times Company, TLo lawyers argued that the PBA's interpretation of Marsy’s Law would essentially eviscerate the public's constitutional right to access public records and scrutinize police actions. They also argued that such an interpretation contradicted the purpose of Marsy's Law and would undermine the public's well-established First Amendment right to gather information about official police activity in public.
The Court agreed. It held that the clear intent of Marsy's Law is to afford "victims" the right to meaningful participation in the criminal proceedings against the accused. In addition, given the public's constitutional right of access to public records, the Court could not interpret Marsy's Law to hide the names of government agents imbued with the authority to use lethal force. Doing so would "create a situation in which officers could act with virtual anonymity . . . Individual officer names are vital for the public's ability to evaluate not only the officer's history of the use of force, but also the agency's treatment and discipline of its officers."
The PBA and Doe officers immediately appealed the decision. TLo attorneys Carol LoCicero, Mark Caramanica, and Daniela Abratt represented to the news media coalition.
With offices in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, Thomas & LoCicero is a Florida-based firm with a national practice focused on Media and Free Speech, Business Litigation, Intellectual Property & Marketing, and Data Privacy & Security. Clients benefit from the firm’s extensive knowledge and experience in defamation, complex commercial litigation, business torts, breach of contract, antitrust and unfair competition, invasion of privacy, trademark, and copyright.