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Marsy’s Law amendment leaves plenty for Legislature to figure out

Voters’ overwhelming approval of Amendment 6 to put broad guarantees of crime victims’ rights into the Florida Constitution means the Florida Legislature has a lot of clarifying to do, from defining who notifies victims to what victims’ information might be shielded from public disclosure.

At least that was the assessment of several representatives of stakeholders in Florida’s criminal justice sector Monday.

“I am not by any means suggesting that we will not give full faith and credit to the requirements this now law, but it is not going to be easy. And I think you’ve already heard enough here to understand the logistics alone are going to be difficult and potentially expensive,” State Attorney Bill Cervone of Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit told the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday.

Cervone’s testimony echoed that of several other witnesses representing statewide organizations, that the “Marsy’s Law” requirements transplanted and adapted to Florida from California and other states are leaving a number of unanswered questions about what it means for crime victims to have more robust rights in criminal cases.

There was considerable disagreement Monday about what was certain and what needed clarification from the Legislature. Some of that disagreement was muted, particularly as Paul Hawkes, a lobbyist representing the organization that put Marsy’s Law on the Florida ballot, Marsy’s Law for Florida, repeatedly challenged some of the what-if scenarios offered by critics, as unlikely or flat-out not going to happen.

“It is important that these [victims] rights be protected and recognized in a manner no less vigorous than the rights of a criminal defendant… to assure the victim is treated with respect and dignity, and to allow the victim to be free from harassment and abuse, and to protect the privacy of the victims,” Hawkes said.

But still, as Cervone, representing state prosecutors, Stacy Scott, representing state public defenders, and others representing sheriffs, judges, and corrections officials discussed the language of the ballot initiative and its parallel’s with Florida’s criminal statutes, numerous uncertainties emerged.

And state Sen. Jason Pizzo, the Miami Democrat who is a former assistant state attorney and criminal prosecutor, in particular, raised a number of concerns dealing with the nuts-and-bolts of how prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges handle cases.

“Some of the notice requirements could be onerous to move a case along,” Hawkes said.

Hawkes repeatedly tried to reassure him, saying that prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys still will do what they’ve always done, and that “nowhere does Marcy’s law gives the victim veto power.”

Among the points raised in the committee meeting that were left for potential legislation:

– How retroactive is the law? Would it now apply to criminal victims in cases already in the pipeline, or would it apply only to victims of crimes since the November election, or after the Florida Legislature adopts enabling legislation?

– Are victims automatically granted the right to be notified of all proceedings involving a suspect, or is that something the victim must request?

– Must victims request their personal information be exempted from public records, or would it automatically be exempted? And who decides what victim information should be redacted from records?

– Should victims be notified by email, and if so, who’s responsible for making sure email records are up to date?

– Some of the language of Marsy’s Law discusses the victims’ rights to finality, speedy trials and processes, including the return of property, but it was unclear in many cases how such timetables might be set, especially considering some of the timetables already written into Florida statutes and case law regarding criminal proceedings.

“We’re going to have our work cut out for us here on this committee,” said state Sen. Anitere Flores, a Republican from Miami.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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