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Bill Would Require Cold Case Review

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Law enforcement agencies throughout the state would be required to review material related to cold cases upon family request under a pair of proposed measures introduced into the Legislature in December.

Filed in the Florida Senate on Dec. 12 by Sen. Rosalind Osgood (D-Tamarac) and in the State House of Representatives by Rep. Christopher Benjamin (D- Miami Gardens), twin bills SB 350/HB 837 would require all law enforcement agencies in the state to review an unsolved murder within their jurisdiction upon receiving a written application from a victim’s family member. The resulting review would then determine if a full re-investigation of the case could identify new leads or a likely perpetrator.

Also, under the legislation, cold case reviews may take no longer than 18 months from the date of a request, including an initial one-year review period and one optional six-month extension.

If passed, the measures would require Florida law enforcement agencies to report, by Oct. 1, 2025, all data related to the cold case to a searchable case-tracking system established and maintained by the Global Forensic and Justice Center of Florida International University.

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Meanwhile, Hernando County Sheriff’s Al Nienhuis said that the legislation would have “significant unintended consequences if it does become law.”

According to Nienhuis, the passage of the legislation could send a message that a cold case that has no new leads would take precedence over new, violent cases that are likely to be solved.

“The last thing we want to do is allow a solvable case to become cold due to the fact that cold cases are much more difficult to solve,” Nienhuis said. “ Some cold cases, frankly, are nearly impossible to solve due to a lack of evidence or due to a very viable legal defense by the known suspect.”

Also, some cold cases are closer to being solved than other cold cases are, he said. “If we were required to focus on another cold case, it might result in several key witnesses of the solvable cold case passing away, making the solvable case impossible to pursue,” Nienhuis said.

Finally, it could take years to review a cold case, especially murder and other complex cases that require investigators to scrutinize thousands of reports, tests and other documents.

“A ‘review’ could not be effectively done in less than several years, even if one detective was able to devote his or her full-time attention to that case alone,” he said. “The bottom line is that every law enforcement administrator I know is very good at prioritizing when the decisions are difficult and every option will be unpopular.”

If passed and signed into law, SB 350/HB837 would become effective on July 1, 2025.

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