Gov. DeSantis signs bill to keep suicide media, autopsy reports confidential

For the bill’s sponsor, it was a personal and emotional issue.

Autopsy reports for people who died by suicide and media depicting the act will be shielded from public view under a new Florida law.

The measure (SB 474), which Gov. Ron DeSantis quietly signed, exempts from general public records requests photos, videos and audio recording of people taking their own lives.

It does the same for related coroner documents.

Surviving spouses, adult children or siblings can still access autopsy reports, and people who want to access the records can seek a court order to obtain them. A court could authorize the release of the material, including media of the suicide, if it determines the public’s need to evaluate government performance outweighs a family’s right to privacy.

Florida today has similar restrictions for media depicting the killing of police officers, minors and victims of mass violence.

DeSantis approved SB 474 on Friday. Fort Pierce Republican Rep. Dana Trabulsy carried an identical companion bill (HB 529) in the House.

For the bill’s sponsor, Vero Beach Republican Sen. Erin Grall, it was a personal and emotional issue. In late 2016, her husband’s firefighter cousin, David Dangerfielddied from a self-inflicted gunshot wound shortly after posting a message to Facebook about post-traumatic stress disorder.

Less than two years later, Grall delivered a tearful speech about Dangerfield’s death on the House floor during a discussion of a bill to expand workers’ compensation benefits for traumatized first responders.

Then-Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. Senator, signed the measure three weeks later.

She cried while explaining SB 474 in its first committee stop in December.

“I think we’ve all been touched by suicide, some of us more recently than others,” she said. “Sometimes when we’re touched by certain things, that causes us to look at the law … in a way that (is) different, and that’s what happened here. It really made me ask the question, ‘Why? … What is the public purpose of these types of videos and photos being made available in what can be very difficult times for families and communities?’

“In working on this bill, I have found that I’m not alone and so many more people than we all realize have been touched by suicide, and their lives have been shaped by the outcomes of that. And I think we should do everything we can to limit what can be the contagion of suicide when … these types of images are shared and glamorized or offered as an option. I think it’s our responsibility to limit the tragedy that suicide is.”

Barbara Petersen, Executive Director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, said at the bill’s last committee stop this month that she worried it could be used to cover up “questionable deaths.”

Over the years, some Florida journalists have sought autopsy reports for investigative stories, such as for cases where someone’s reported suicide seemed suspicious.

“What was the impetus for the bill — a question rarely answered,” she said. “Our legislators need to remember that every exemption created is an exception to the constitution. Frankly, I’ve never been this dispirited about the state of open government in Florida.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle were not as troubled by the law’s potential misuse. SB 474 passed with unanimous support in both chambers.


Gabrielle Russon contributed to this report.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Dont Say FLA

    March 22, 2024 at 5:35 pm

    Now any time anyone doesn’t feel like releasing an autopsy report, they can just claim it was a suicide. Great idea Rhonda. Are ya’ planning on assassinating some people or what?

    • Dont Say FLA

      March 25, 2024 at 11:02 am

      OTOH i can see wanting to limit access to peoples’ own videos of their own suicides, but that is a whopper of a 1st Amendment issue. People want others to see the video of their own suicide because they wanted other people to know how strongly they felt about whatever led them to take their own life.

      Self-immolation as a protest is on the rise in USA as USA become more and more authoritarian like China other places where self-immolation is not rare.

      If someone gives their own life in one of the most painful ways, and they do it in public as a protest, government absolutely no business violating their 1st amendment right of free expression.

  • rick whitaker

    March 22, 2024 at 6:15 pm

    yeah desantis, just claim the perp committed suicide and there’s nothing to see here. are you hitler’s great grandson or what

    • Travis

      March 29, 2024 at 8:48 am

      What a stupid statement. This article isn’t talking about the Clintons after all. This is a great law and think other states should adopt something similar.

  • tom palmer

    March 23, 2024 at 11:07 am

    We haven’t decided whether he died trying to escape or committed suicide.

  • Drama Queen crybaby stunt for bad legislation

    March 23, 2024 at 9:20 pm

    Shame on Erin Grall and her fakey crocodile tears. Just using her discomfort and embarrassment and smear campaign to arbitrarily stifle someone’s constitutional rights, freedom of speech, especially if it is meant as their last self-directed communication? Shame. And an insult to vets and others everywhere. Just a backdoor to more and more abuse. You are literally shutting that person up and taking away their rights, and paving way for more government censorship and abuse. She should know better. Why are all her bills about using the Florida State Legislature to fix some aspect of her personal life? Like she’s a reality TV celebrity airing all her grievances for taxpayers to pay for and take the brunt? Drama queen stunt that is bad bad bad lawmaking. And of course the gubna would eat that up with a spoon.

  • Fire Grall and her stupid crying jags and bad laws

    March 23, 2024 at 9:31 pm

    Typical. Guess who this is going to hurt? Vulnerable elders. Bullied teens. Victims of domestic violence. People who suffer from chronic health conditions and are abused whether by guardianship, the state, nursing homes, lack of access to VA, etc. etc. In other words, the state’s most vulnerable people. Not to mention wiping out their civil and constitutional rights and putting law enforcement in a double bind. This makes me sick. This law needs to get reversed. Florida is where logic, reason, morals, ethics, equanimity, constitutional rights, freedoms, accountability, transparency, and good governance go to die. Oh yeah and people. So many people to die.

  • Silver Lining

    March 24, 2024 at 8:12 pm

    On the bright side at least folks can now get assisted suicide in Florida and the person assisting them need not worry since the state will have zero proof anything happened.

Comments are closed.


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