The Forgotten Victims In North Dakota

In North Dakota, we’ve heard lawyers and others object to Marsy’s Law for North Dakota for a variety of reasons. While solid answers to those concerns have been provided countless times, this information has fallen on seemingly deaf ears.

To be clear, constitutional victims’ rights are necessary in our state in order to guarantee equal rights for crime victims. This is no more and no less than the protections afforded to accused criminals. Equal legal weight between these rights ensures that there is a level playing field between the persons wronged and the persons accused or convicted of committing the crime.

What is often overlooked by the legal community is that North Dakota is actually behind the rest of the nation on this issue. More than 30 states already have some form of constitutional rights for crime victims. Why do our family members, friends, and neighbors deserve less?

Change can be hard, particularly when it comes to the constitution – and it should be. However, no matter how hard, change can also be necessary and the right thing to do. For example, women’s right to vote was not originally in the constitution, and the suffrage movement of the 1920s clearly shows the challenge those brave women endured.

Similarly, crime victims’ rights were not in the constitution. Why? Because crime victims originally prosecuted their own cases. They were, therefore, automatically guaranteed the right to notification, the right to be heard, the right to be free from harassment. They had a significant role in the process. As our legal system has evolved, crime victims – those actually wronged or even killed by the situation in question – have been relegated to mere witnesses. That means that if you are stabbed and someone sees you getting stabbed, our existing laws treat both of you the same. Yet, the person who is stabbed clearly has more at stake in the matter – their safety, their financial well-being from any medical bills, etc. But our existing system says that doesn’t matter. This must change.

Our current statutory laws hold less weight than the constitutional laws afforded to those accused/convicted of crimes. With this disparity, the rights of the accused/convicted will always take precedence over the rights of the victim. While it’s been proven across the country that constitutional rights for victims do not burden the criminal justice system, nor cost additional money, Marsy’s Law for North Dakota will ensure lawyers and others involved uphold crime victims’ rights. Today, our statutory laws are too often overlooked or ignored altogether.

More concerning than the objections over current laws and funding, however, has been the outright dismissal of victims in North Dakota and beyond. Marsy’s Law is about the victims and the equalization of their rights in an otherwise excruciatingly painful experience. Victims in North Dakota are speaking out in support of Marsy’s Law because their experiences in the judicial system are proof that the current system is not working. Unfortunately, their voices are being drowned out by louder voices – many of which have been complicit in the current system.

It is time to focus the conversation where it ought to be – on victims’ rights in North Dakota and those whose voices have been forgotten in our current system and in the current debate. If anyone can speak to why Marsy’s Law is needed in North Dakota, it is the victims. And it is to them, quiet they may be, that we must listen.