Potential Legislation Would Criminalize Disclosing Shelter Locations
In early March, the Florida Senate’s Rules Committee sent two bills to the floor that would make it a misdemeanor to disclose identifying information about the location of a domestic violence shelter, or to publicly identify any of the shelter’s workers. There has been a repeated pattern of behavior over many years (as technology has advanced) where shelter locations would be exposed either by drone flights, or by threatening or mistreating staff. If you have been charged with domestic violence, and have ever contemplated trying to go to a shelter or otherwise seek out your alleged victim, this is another reason among many to refrain from that course of action.
A Narrowly Tailored Bill
As of this writing, Florida law only criminalizes publicizing domestic violence shelters’ locations if it is done by a worker. Bill SB 70 would seek to remedy that, recognizing that very often, an alleged abuser will feel the need to seek revenge on both their victim and anyone who assists the victim. The language of the proposed legislation singles out those who “maliciously publish or disclose” identifying information or photos that reveal a shelter’s location, and would charge them with a first-degree misdemeanor (with the charge rising to a third-degree felony for a second offense).
The choice of words is significant, because of what it explicitly excludes and includes in terms of criminal conduct. If someone makes an honest mistake or even acts negligently and winds up publishing the location of a domestic violence shelter, they would likely not be charged under this proposed law. However, if someone deliberately passes on the information either by word of mouth or by publication, they will face charges, because of the harm done to the staff and to the alleged victims using the shelter.
Advocates’ Information Would Be Protected
In addition to SB 70 potentially criminalizing disclosure of shelter locations, its companion, SB 68, would add an exemption to public record laws in Florida for domestic violence advocates. Florida’s public record laws are extremely open, at least since the passage of its “Government-in-the-Sunshine” law in 1967, but this has proven nightmarish for certain groups of people who may be at risk for abuse or harm. Shelter workers’ information has been public record in the past, but SB 68 would keep that information confidential so as to help ensure workers’ safety.
If you have been accused of domestic violence and you attempt to contact either your alleged victim, or any of the workers at the shelter, by using shelter workers’ information, it is a first-degree misdemeanor, and a violation of Florida’s public records act. However, it may also be a persuasive piece of evidence as to whether you have violated any domestic violence protection order taken out by your victim. If you violate a protection order, you can wind up with yet another charge against you.
Call A West Palm Beach Domestic Violence Attorney
While the eventual passage of SB 68 and SB 70 is still up in the air, it is still important to be aware of the potential penalties that can await you if you try to break confidentiality surrounding shelters and their workers. If you have further questions about domestic violence cases, contacting an experienced West Palm Beach criminal attorney from the firm of Perlet, Shiner, Melchiorre & Walsh, P.A. may be the first step toward getting them answered. Call our offices today to speak to an attorney.