The State of California passed the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act in 2008. Also known as Marsy’s Law, the legislation grants protections against the release of the names of victims involved in certain crimes. This was done, in part, to protect the victims of crimes and their families from retribution by other parties. However, it has also expanded the ability of parole boards greater power to deny inmates convicted of those crimes parole. Similar laws have been passed in several other states, including Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, and others. When it comes to Florida, the law is being used to prevent the release of names of accident victims of Florida roadways according to The Tampa Bay Times.
Within hours of the accident happening, the Florida Highway Patrol issued news releases about fatal crashes. However, those fatal crashes were missing key pieces of information: the names of the victims.
The omission was part of a new policy to comply with Marsy’s Law, which was passed in 2018 by 62% of Florida voters. Although the law explicitly refers to the release of the names of “crime victims” the omissions are occurring regardless of whether the Highway Patrol believes a crime has been committed.
Once the accident reports are completed and it has been determined that no crimes have been committed, the names of the victims will be made available. Some law enforcement agencies, such as the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Tampa Police Department will not release victim information unless their families specifically opt-out of Marsy’s Law protection.
The St. Petersburg Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department, in contrast, release names unless the victims specify that they want them withheld.
The Florida Highway Safety Department announced the policy change on April 24th.