As of the Senate Committee Hearing held last Tuesday, there is now a plan in place to protect those who have been witness to a murder. Two weeks earlier, House members approved the exact same plan unanimously.
The bill is called SB-550 or the “witness protection bill” and it passed through the Senate Criminal Justice Committee with a 4-3 vote. Some senators were critical of the bill and had reservations about it. The deciding vote was Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) who supported the bill, although he said that he had his own concerns about it. The bill would make the identity of murder witnesses confidential and out of public records for up to two years after the crime was committed. “I think we need to be extremely careful when we abridge freedom of the press,” Rouson said, defending his concerns about the bill.
But those who support the bill like Representative Cynthia Stafford (D-Miami) say that the proposal is worth withholding that information because it might save lives. She says that law enforcement agencies could offer better protection with this public record exemption and that means that more witnesses will come forward and more killers will be off the streets. In many neighborhoods, people don’t come forward out of fear of retaliation.
Of course, this only offers protection from those outside of the court proceedings who get their information from public records. The witnesses’ identities would be available to Miami criminal defense attorney representing and defendants would know the identity of the witnesses once court proceedings started.
One of the things that gave lawmakers pause was whether or not people would be led to believe that if they came forward, their identity would not be available to the defendant for two years. “I think we’re not being truthful to some extent with people who are going to be putting their life on the line,” said Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth).
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