Florida Governor Rick Scott recently signed the witness protection bill (House Bill 111) into law, which conceals the identities of witnesses to murders for up to two years, according to NBC Miami. By not including the witnesses names in police reports, law enforcement agencies and others hope to not only protect witnesses from speaking out, but also to encourage more people to come forward who have knowledge about a murder. The bill was the work of the Parents of Murdered Kids group, initiated by Tangela Sears, a parent whose child’s murderer is still at large. According to Sears, “I think getting the word out there educating the community that there is something in place now to protect them. I think this will help solve a lot of these cases.” However, the defendant and the defendant’s attorney will, of course, be able to see the witness’s name and information as part of their due process.
What is Due Process?
Due process, which is the fair and legal treatment of the defendant, is a necessity in every federal or Florida court. By hiding the identity of a witness from the defendant and the defendant’s attorney, due process would be violated, as the prosecution’s evidence must be transparent and there must be actual proof that such a witness exists and that what they actually said is what is alleged. During the criminal trial, which includes the period of discovery, the witness’s information must be given to the defense in order to uphold due process.
Less Open Government Could be Potential Problem with the New Witness Protection Law
According to Representative Cynthia Stafford, “Witness intimidation is real and so is retaliation. This bill will hopefully encourage people to come forward and help law enforcement solve murders.” But, as reported by the Miami Herald, not every policy maker was in support of the bill and did not receive unilateral support earlier before passing through the house. According to Representative Joseph Geller, “It’s a laudable purpose. But we always have to be vigilant when it comes to public records, and there may be other approaches that would be satisfactory here. Representative Barbara Peterson believes that the First Amendment Foundation is in objection to hiding the identities of witnesses and that, “I don’t think this is going to solve the problem. The legislation sort of assumes that the problem is our open government laws, that witnesses aren’t coming forward because their information will be public record. That’s an assumption. I haven’t seen any evidence that supports that.”
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer at Once
If you have been charged with any type of crime, it is vital to enlist the assistance of an experienced attorney as soon as possible. We strongly encourage you to call the West Palm Beach criminal defense law offices of the Skier Law Firm today. Reach out to us at (561) 220-3355 to talk with an attorney at once to ensure that your due process rights are upheld.