NewsHillsborough County


Group wants to clarify interpretation of Marsy's law

Posted at 5:59 PM, May 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-03 18:11:14-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Pepper Goforth says an automated call is how she found out the daycare worker that is accused of battering her 3-year-old son last summer at Discovery Point Child Development center had a court hearing Friday.

"I feel like we’re just kind of left out of the loop in this particular case,” said Goforth.

Sarah Hand, 33, was given a one-time opportunity last November to enter into a misdemeanor diversion program that, once completed, would scrub her record of any charges. It also means she would be able to work with children again, and pass background checks.

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The state scheduled an arraignment hearing because they say she failed to complete the program. Her defense says she actually did and the judge decided in court Friday to give the state three weeks to review evidence of that.

Goforth says regardless, up until Friday morning, she had zero details about what happened or how she violated the program.

"Did she pick up a new charge? Did she decide she didn’t want to do the program and she wanted to go to trial?” she asked.

In January, Marsy’s law took effect, which gives people addition rights as victims of a crime. Goforth feels they aren’t very clear about what the law means — leaving her family in the dark.

"So far we’ve only received the automated victims calls just letting us know court dates,” she said. “We’re not being kept in the loop as far as what’s going on.”

The state attorneys office says they don’t leave details in the automated message for confidentiality reasons. If a victim wants more information on a court hearing, they can call either their office or victim assistance for that info.

"I think there should be more contact with the victim and more discussion,” Goforth said.

She says there’s also confusion on how to invoke your rights. In some counties, law enforcement provide a card that victims can fill out to opt in or out. In Hillsborough County, victims are automatically opted in but in Pinellas County victims are given a pamphlet and must verbally request to opt in.

The advocacy group, Marsy’s Law for Florida, says Goforth isn’t alone in her confusion. That's why they’ve been asking lawmakers to clarify the interpretation of the law to help streamline the process across the state.

The group was following a bill going through the legislator this session but they don't believe it won’t be addressed in time.