Where Did Crime Victims’ Rights Start?

Did you know that crime victims in more than 30 other states already have constitutional rights? North Dakota is one of the few remaining states that does not afford these guaranteed equal protections. We deserve better.

What is the background on crime victims’ rights?

The legal impetus for the modern crime victims’ rights movement was, in part, the 1973 United States Supreme Court decision in Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614 (1972). Nearly ten years after Linda R.S., in 1982, the final report of the President’s Task Force on the Victims of Crime was issued. Additionally, in Payne v. Tennessee, the United States Supreme Court explicitly recognized that crime victims are not nameless/faceless non-players in criminal justice system. Specifically, in his concurring opinion in Payne, Justice Scalia noted, “a public sense of justice keen enough that it has found voice in a nationwide ‘victims’ rights movement.’” (Learn more)

Nearly two years ago, Griffin Dunne, whose sister was murdered in 1982, recounted his experience at the 30th anniversary of Justice For Homicide Victims’ memorial service. In his writing, Dunne explains how his mother contacted Marcella Leach, the mother of Marsy for whom Marsy’s Law was named:

… my mother cold-called Marcella and opened with a haunting line my mother would later repeat to countless other parents in agony: ‘You don’t know me but we have something terrible in common.’ My mother told Marcella she could either continue crying for Marsy in support groups or help create laws that would force the judicial system to treat them with respect.

As Dunne later explains, murder is brutal and arbitrary. It crosses all lines, including those that divide our states. Victims in North Dakota suffer the same as victims from coast to coast, yet the voices of those victimized are all too often forgotten in the debate for change.

It was merely a week after Marsy’s murder that her brother Dr. Henry Nicholas, along with his mother, was confronted in a grocery store by Marsy’s murderer; out on bail unbeknownst to the family. Simply put, Dr. Nicholas is, himself, a victim who was not given proper notice by the criminal justice system. That shocking experience of being thrust into a judicial system that placed little value on the rights of victims is what sparked the Nicholas family’s efforts for change. Just like in North Dakota, statutory crime victims’ laws were in place in California when this happened. And just like in North Dakota, those statutory laws were being ignored.

With the backing of the state constitution, victims in California, and more than 30 other states, are no longer being ignored. Victims’ voices are being heard. North Dakota crime victims deserve the same level of rights afforded to crime victims across the nation and their voices deserve to be heard. The time for change is now.