A recent Lakeland Ledger article gives the impression that Florida Clerks of Court are proposing changes to Marsy’s Law for Florida. To clarify, as part of the state constitution, Marsy’s Law for Florida can only be changed through a constitutional amendment. What is being proposed are changes to rules that govern how Clerks handle confidential information and what they should redact within case information they are processing.
This proposed rule is supported by representatives and advocates of Marsy’s Law for Florida. It will help ensure personally identifiable information about a crime victim cannot be used to locate or harass them.
In the article, Polk County Clerk of Court Stacy Butterfield and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd acknowledge Marsy’s Law for Florida has led to an increase in the confidential information their offices must redact from case files. However, Sheriff Judd says, “that’s OK. We are siding with the victims.”
“We commend Florida’s Clerks of Court, Polk County Clerk Butterfield and Sheriff Judd for all their efforts to ensure crime victims’ personally identifiable information remains confidential thereby reducing the prospect of further victimization,” said Jennifer Fennell, Marsy’s Law for Florida spokesperson.
Read the full piece below or HERE.
Changes proposed in Florida for Marsy’s Law
A task force organized by Polk County Clerk of Courts Stacey Butterfield proposes tweaks to Marsy’s Law to better protect crime victims’ personal information.
LAKELAND — Florida clerks of court say Marsy’s Law, the constitutional amendment that gave sweeping new rights to crime victims and their families, needs some adjustments.
It hasn’t been a breeze to enforce, partly because there isn’t a standardized, statewide approach to handling records and confidentiality, said Stacy Butterfield, Polk County’s clerk of courts.
Marsy’s Law, which took effect Jan. 8 in Florida, gives crime victims the right to receive notifications of all legal proceedings involving the accused, as well as the right to privacy, the right to be heard, and the right to be protected from harassment.
The law is named for Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. One week after her death, Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas III, were confronted by the accused killer in a grocery store, unaware he had been released on bail. Nicholas, who went on to become the billionaire co-founder of Broadcom Corp., formed Marsy’s Law for All in 2009, providing expertise and resources to victims’ rights organizations nationwide.
“As clerks, we are sworn to uphold the constitution of the State of Florida, therefore, we are committed to implementing Marsy’s Law as we carry out our mission, which is ‘united statewide to protect the public trust’,” Butterfield wrote in an email to The Ledger. The email was in response to an inquiry for an update on Marsy’s Law and how Polk County is changing its policies to enforce the amendment.
Butterfield, who is president of the Florida County Clerks & Comptrollers, assigned a task force of clerks to review procedures that are being used to meet the requirements of Marsy’s Law. They presented their findings Oct. 18 at a meeting in Tampa of the Florida Bar’s Rules of Judicial Administration committee.
The task force proposed several updates to the law that they said would better protect victims’ information.
‒ One proposed change would require law enforcement to file the victim opt-in form with initial case documents, or upon receipt, so victims are protected from the moment the case begins.
‒ Another change would authorize clerks to redact victim information from court documents upon filing of the victim opt-in form or victim request for the protection of their identifying information.
‒ The proposed changes also would require filers to minimize the appearance of victim information by using generic indicators such as “victim 1 or victim 2.”
‒ Finally, the proposal would require a Notice of Confidential Information in court documents when that information is “unavoidably present in a court filing.”
“In Polk County, protecting this information has been a top concern,” Butterfield said. “Our local law enforcement agencies have also quickly taken to bringing awareness of the option to victims.”
CHANGES IN POLK
While the clerks are having to take one more step to redact sensitive information, Butterfield said the Florida Supreme Court has now granted public access online. The order created a complex set of rules governing how records are accessed and by whom.
“To comply with the order, we developed a new system for accessing records online as well as installed robust redaction tools,” Butterfield said.
The clerk’s office also devoted staff positions to the redaction of records, she said.
“With these resources already in place, at this time, we have not had to increase resources, but we are monitoring the workload,” she said.
She said the clerk’s office has noticed that various law enforcement agencies “use a variety of forms to communicate notices to us.”
“A statewide, standardized form will be beneficial for us in Polk County to consistently identify the sensitive information as well as ensure timeliness when processing the forms,” she said.
Advocates of Marsy’s Law attended the meeting of clerks in Tampa and voiced support for the proposed changes.
An Orlando-area crime victim shared how the proposal would have helped her.
Rachel Sines told the committee that for a period of time the man who sexually assaulted her at gunpoint chose to serve as his own counsel. During that time, she said, he was granted access to her personal information as well as witness depositions. Sines said the man made harassing phone calls to her and her witnesses, and her information was used to steal her identity and set up phone and credit card accounts in her name.
“This is what happens when there aren’t privacy laws in place for victims,” she said. “It took me six months of calls, paperwork and effort to clear things up, and I still had almost $5,000 stolen from me. And every time something happened, I had to file a complaint, file a report and revisit what happened to me,” Sines said.
Sines said it’s important that personal information irrelevant to the case doesn’t flow directly into discovery and then to defense attorneys.
“Defense attorneys and public defenders will still have access to information crucial to their clients’ cases without exposing crime victims to additional victimization,” she said.
‘SIDING WITH THE VICTIMS’
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Marsy’s Law has caused a significant increase in manual redaction of documents and has been a “pretty big shift” in the way law enforcement deals with records.
“But that’s OK. We are siding with the victims,” he said by email to The Ledger last week.
Judd said the intent behind Marsy’s Law is providing victims “the same kind and quality of rights that criminals have.”
“One key, broadly-written part of Marsy’s Law is that victims have a right to prevent the release of information that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family,” Judd said.
“Before Marsy’s Law, the only victim and family information we removed from documents was for cases like sexual battery, child abuse, and some information related to domestic violence. Now, law enforcement is required to withhold names and contact information for all crime victims and their families,” he said, “even those victims who are deceased.”
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS
When a person becomes a victim of crime, the State Attorney’s Office now has a link on its website that provides pertinent information to all victims.
On the Victim Notification Services portion of the 10th Judicial Circuit’s website, victims can get an update on the case status, review upcoming court dates, or opt to keep their personal information confidential.
Assistant state attorneys communicate with each victim regarding the prosecution.
State Attorney Brian Haas said in an email that he is “committed to serving the victims of crimes in the 10th Circuit,” and “encourages all victims to contact the Office of the State Attorney to discuss the progress of their case.”
Each victim also is given a couple of pamphlets with information on how to get updates, use the website or reach the State Attorney’s Office.
For more information on Marsy’s Law for Florida, visit marsyslawforfl.com.