New Florida Law Seals Personal Identifying Information of Witnesses in Homicide Cases

When a criminal defendant has been arrested for allegedly committing a crime, what ultimately determines whether or not a criminal defendant will be convicted is the amount of evidence and witness testimony that puts the criminal defendant at the scene of the crime. Though there are Florida Rules of Evidence, which determine what evidence is admissible and what evidence may not be admissible to the record, there are standards in place to permit the criminal defendant to confront his or her accusers. This is known as the right of confrontation, or the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.

If you have been arrested for a crime and believe that your right to confront your accuser is being violated, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.

Witness Testimony and Protections for Witnesses

With any form of confrontation, such as a witness who can attest that the defendant was the perpetrator of the crime, there are inherent dangers involved. Many have heard of programs such as the Witness Protection Program that allow for the federal government to relocate the witness and his or her family to another, undisclosed location so that the testimony can be secured and the witness is protected from retaliation. However, this romantic view of witness protection is not the norm, and there are dangers when it comes to being a witness with damning evidence against a criminal defendant.

Florida Looks to Seal 2.7M Records to Protect Witness Identifying Information

In a recent law, the Florida legislature has evaluated the current practice of releasing the personal identifying information of witnesses into the public record of criminal proceedings. In an attempt to better protect witnesses and their families, as well as encourage witnesses to come forward in future criminal proceedings, Florida has passed a law that will remove the identifies of any murder witnesses through the sealing of criminal and arrest records. With the signing of this law by Governor Scott, more than 2.7 million criminal records and hundred of thousands of arrest records will need to be sealed by court clerks to maintain the anonymity of the witnesses.

According to the bill, the personal identifying information of the witness to a murder will remain confidential and exempt for two years after the date on which the witnesses observed the murder. The bill, which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott, will go into effect on July 1, 2017.

Opponents and Supporters

There are opponents to the inclusion of this exemption for murder witnesses who believe that the government should be transparent and open in its public records to ensure a fair and just society. For many, having access to this information is the cornerstone of a free and open democratic society and criminal justice system. However, many believe that protecting witnesses will ensure that the criminal justice system is free from manipulation, blackmail, or intimidation tactics when attempting to procure witness testimony. Additionally, it will limit the chilling effects on testimony of being publically known in one’s neighborhood as being “in cahoots” with the law enforcement officials.

Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.