A state lawmaker wants to stop what he calls “snitching culture.” This is when community members are discouraged from talking to the police. But, one Sunshine Law group is concerned because the bill would block a witness’ information from the public.
State Rep. Edwin Narain, D-Tampa, filed a bill dealing with witnesses to felonies. The bill prohibits a witnesses’ identifying information - like names or addresses - from being released to the public. The exemption lasts until the end of the prosecution or the felony’s statute of limitations expires.
Narain said his bill is a response to a number of local murders where witnesses were scared to come forward.
“While I’m not always a big fan of public record exemptions because I do understand there is a need for balance between the public’s right to know and a defendant’s right to confront someone, I am convinced that it’s time for us to really start taking actions to stop the snitching culture – to stop snitching culture that’s becoming prevalent in neighborhoods all across the state,” he said.
But president of the First Amendment Foundation Barbara Petersen said the public should be allowed to make their own conclusions about a witness.
“We can’t truly understand… the veracity of the charges brought against someone if we don’t know who the witness is. Is it a credible witness? Is it someone who’s a flake? Who is a witness for everything? We don’t know,” she said.
Narain said the media could still talk about how a witness looked or acted on the stand - just without that identifying information.