Florida House Representative Cynthia Stafford (D-Miami) introduced a bill known as the witness protection bill. As a general proposition, in Florida most court records and documents are publicly available. HB 111 proposes an exception to public records with respect to names and identities of witnesses in homicide cases. The Defense (The attorney and the Defendant) will still have direct access to this information.
The theory behind this bill, if one were to guess, is that people are not stepping forward as witness to murders because their information will be listed in the discovery disclosure made by the prosecution, which is, in turn, public record through the clerk of courts.
The public's right to information and transparency under Florida's Sunshine Law is not absolute to begin with. Active criminal investigations, open litigation, and several other categories of information are excluded already. Extending the exception from public records that exists during an open criminal investigation to the open criminal court case is certainly something the legislature can and may actually do. The real question is, will it work?
If threats and intimidation from persons reviewing public records are the only reason for witness' failure to come forward to law enforcement, then perhaps. More logically, a prospective witness to a murder is afraid of the Defendant. That is the person this witness believes, or knows, or saw, kill someone. This bill leaves intact, the right of the Defendant to have that information. Taking that information from the Defendant and his Attorney, would tie the hands of the Defense behind its back, besides being clearly an unconstitutional invasion on the right to Due Process and a fair trial.
A Court can, of course, place conditions upon the Defense. In matters of sensitivity, such as photographic evidence of child pornography, or witness statements made by minors, a standing order not to further disclose or discuss such information is standard. Should HB 111 pass and become law, such a condition, to be followed by the Courts, could increase the effectiveness of this proposed legislation.
Logically speaking, one who is not concerned with the strictures against murder, is probably not too concerned with the penalties for disclosure of witness information in violation of the court order. If a Defendant's purpose is to intimidate witnesses to murder, (which is illegal) this rule just doesn't have the muscle to stop that from happening. While it is a good effort, HB 111 will not likely encourage homicide witnesses to overcome fear and testify in statistically more instances than at the present.