What is Marsy’s Law for North Dakota?

Marsy’s Law for North Dakota was recently approved to be circulated for signatures. With enough support from North Dakota voters, this constitutional measure will be on the November 2016 ballot.

Which all begs the question: What is Marsy’s Law for North Dakota?

This initiated measure would add a new section to Article I of the North Dakota Constitution to provide a number of rights for victims of crimes in this state in a manner no less vigorous than protections afforded to criminal defendants, including the rights of crime victims to be treated with respect, to be free from harassment, and to be protected from the accused.

  • The measure would provide for the safety of crime victims in bail and release decisions and in protecting information that might be used to harass or locate crime victims.
  • Crime victims would have the right to be present at certain court and related proceedings and to be heard concerning such matters as release, plea or sentencing of the accused, and parole and pardon matters and to be notified of any release or escape of the accused.
  • Crime victims would have the right to provide information about the impact of the offender’s conduct and to receive relevant reports or records including pre-sentence reports.
  • The measure would also require prompt return of victims’ property when no longer needed and to timely restitution.

Very broadly, Marsy’s Law for North Dakota elevates victims’ rights to ensure people have the right to be heard, the right to be notified and the right to be free from harassment. Victims would receive a Marsy’s Card outlining their rights from law enforcement or emergency services personnel.

These are all reasonable requests that currently cannot be guaranteed without implementing Marsy’s Law. These rights also do nothing to infringe upon the existing rights of accused criminals.

North Dakota already has certain victims’ rights defined in Century Code. This exact language was used to write Marsy’s Law for North Dakota, which was then vetted by law enforcement, attorneys and victim advocates. The issue is not the language used in the existing law. The issue is that Century Code is legally lesser than the constitution, where accused criminals’ rights are defined. By elevating victims’ rights to the constitution, we are ensuring both sets of rights – victims’ and criminals’ – are as fully and equally protected as possible.

Marsy’s Law for North Dakota does not take away anything from accused criminals or their defense attorneys. To reinforce that point, without question, we made sure the following text was included in the measure’s language: “Nothing in this section shall abrogate a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution nor diminish the State’s disclosure obligations to a defendant.” This is an important point because North Dakota currently protects the accused more than most other states with its lenient discovery rules, which can end up giving the defense the opportunity to harass and burden the victim with endless requests. Therefore, we know the biggest opposition to Marsy’s Law will be from defense attorneys because they are looking to protect their clients, the accused criminals. The reality is, there is no constitutional right to the discovery process.

Here in North Dakota, many of those championing this effort have either been victims or have worked to support victims. While each story is unique, one underlying theme is that communication – notification and information related to the case – must be improved. Victims and families of victims deserve to be notified of court proceedings, parole hearings, release dates, etc. While strong efforts are being made, there is more than can be done in North Dakota.

  • One victim of domestic violence was not notified that the defendant was paroled even though she was signed up for SAVIN. To make matters worse, her new address was provided to the defendant through paperwork as she sought a restraining order.
  • In a different situation, requests by the family of a murder victim to receive court-ordered restitution payments were ignored.

Under Marsy’s Law for North Dakota, these situations wouldn’t happen.

Although legal counsel, victims support groups, law enforcement and others work very hard to provide great services, there is more that can be done. Through Marsy’s Law for North Dakota, criminal justice system processes would be clearer, victims’ voices will have a role in the system, and victims will be protected from undue harassment so that additional suffering is not endured.