Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Government shouldn't let ink blot Florida's sunshine policies

People charged with crimes in Florida have the basic right to know why they've been charged.

For that reason, they get to see a document called a probable cause affidavit, which summarizes the evidence against them.

To further guarantee their rights, the public also gets to see it.

Yep, though it might not seem that way when defendants see their names in newspaper headlines, open access is their right.

It's a major check on the power of law enforcement. It's one of the protections that distinguishes our country and state, the land of actual and government sunshine.

But there are occasional ink-black clouds such as the one that appeared Sunday, when Jesse Robert Daily, 17, of Spring Hill was accused of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of his mother's boyfriend, David Floyd.

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Denise Moloney released no details other than that the boy had left the home earlier in the day, returned several hours later, taken a knife from the kitchen and stabbed Floyd.

She did release the probable cause affidavit, though every single line telling what happened, why Daily might have stabbed Floyd and why deputies think the crime merits a first-degree murder charge had been blacked out. (See it at twitter.com/HernandoTimes/status/278524102548004864/photo/1).

As Florida lawmakers have added more exceptions to the Sunshine Law, we reporters have grown more used to seeing these "redactions," the term preferred by Sharpie-wielding bureaucrats.

But nobody in this office, not even we tribal elders, had ever seen such a total eclipse.

And we shouldn't see it again, said Barbara Petersen, president of Florida's First Amendment Foundation, at least not without a better explanation.

The one Moloney gave us was that the investigation into the killing was still "active."

And, yes, that does allow law enforcement to withhold information, but not, the law says, documents such as probable cause affidavits, which "are given or required by law … to be given to the person arrested."

And if parts of these documents are blacked out, Petersen said, the Sheriff's Office needs to cite one of the reasons that are spelled out by law and, by the way, generally accepted by reporters; most all of us would be horrified at the thought of fouling up a murder investigation.

Which is another puzzle here. Daily is safely in jail, and no other arrests are expected. There's a grand jury coming up, but there always is in first-degree murder cases.

The only other reason Moloney gave for the blackout was that folks at the Sheriff's Office want to "do our best to minimize the circulation of the information."

That seems presumptuous for a department that consumes more than half the county's general fund budget, don't you think?

Because open government laws not only protect the rights of accused criminals, but of regular people who get to see how their tax money is being spent.

I hope Sheriff Al Neinhuis, who has been away this week, realizes this. I hope he decides to lift the curtain on this case. I hope he remembers that in the land of sunshine, we expect public agencies to release as much information as they safely can, not the minimum.

Government shouldn't let ink blot Florida's sunshine policies 12/13/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 13, 2012 8:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump: Not 'that far off' from passing health overhaul

    National

    WASHINGTON — Making a final push, President Donald Trump said he doesn't think congressional Republicans are "that far off" on a health overhaul to replace "the dead carcass of Obamacare." Expressing frustration, he complained about "the level of hostility" in government and wondered why both parties can't work …

    President Donald Trump speaks during a bill signing event for the "Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017" in the East Room of the White House, Friday, June 23, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) DCEV208
  2. Erin Andrews, ex-NHL player Jarret Stoll marry in Montana

    Celebrities

    NEW YORK — Sportscaster Erin Andrews and former NHL player Jarret Stoll have tied the knot.

    FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2016 file photo, Fox Sports broadcaster Erin Andrews, left, speaks with Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Atlanta. Jennifer Allen, a publicist for Andrews, confirms Sunday, June 25, 2017, that the 38-year-old Fox Sports sideline reporter and ???‚??“Dancing with the Stars???‚?? co-host married the 35-year-old Stoll over the weekend.  (AP Photo/David Goldman, File) NYSP103
  3. Amid FBI probe of Tallahassee, Gillum says GOP trying to 'put as much dirt on me as they can'

    Blogs

    Tallahassee mayor and candidate for governor Andrew Gillum might like his supporters to think a federal investigation into development deals in his city is political – but …

    Andrew Gillum
  4. Tampa pedestrian struck, killed near Temple Terrace

    Accidents

    A Tampa woman was killed Saturday night after she was hit by a car while walking near Temple Terrace.

  5. Snell to rejoin rotation Wednesday

    Blogs