More Than 44,000 Signatures Submitted to Put Equal Rights for Crime Victims on the November Ballot

May 10, 2016

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Amanda Godfread
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More Than 44,000 Signatures Submitted to Put Equal Rights for Crime Victims on the Nov. Ballot

BISMARCK, N.D.— Sponsoring committee members of Marsy’s Law for North Dakota submitted more than 44,000 signatures from North Dakota voters today in order to place the initiative on the November ballot. Marsy’s Law for North Dakota will constitutionalize a number of rights for victims of crimes, protecting them in a manner no less vigorous than protections afforded to criminal defendants, including the rights to be heard, to be notified and to be free from harassment. According to state law, the initiative needs 26,904 valid signatures to qualify. The Secretary of State’s Office now has 35 days to review the signatures.

“We have been overwhelmed by the thousands of people supporting stronger victims’ rights, including our endorsement from the North Dakota Sheriffs and Deputies Association,” said Marsha Lembke, state director for Marsy’s Law for North Dakota. “We are also grateful to the victims who have stepped forward to share their experiences within the criminal justice system that justify the need for this change.”

The process for this initiated measure began in late 2015 with a committee drafting its language. This committee included victims, victim advocates, attorneys, local law enforcement, a former U.S. Attorney for North Dakota, and concerned citizens. An official sponsoring committee was later formed and the initiative was submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office on December 15. On December 22, Secretary Jaeger approved the petition to be circulated for signatures. Signature gathering began in earnest in mid-February and concluded in early May.

“Procedurally, Marsy’s Law for North Dakota is a simple initiative that can greatly impact how crime victims are treated within the criminal justice system,” said Kathleen Wrigley, chair of the Marsy’s Law for North Dakota sponsoring committee. “Its language purposefully mirrors our existing state statute, making it simple and straightforward to implement. The great benefit comes from these rights getting equal legal standing to the rights of the accused. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less. With this, crime victims will be part of the process, not reduced to a consequence of it.”

Only 18 states do not have constitutional rights for victims of crime, one of which is North Dakota. While our state laws are strong, there are no express remedies for victims if they are not followed. This has resulted in too many instances of victims’ rights being ignored. Additionally, without equal legal standing, victims’ rights will always be superseded by the rights of accused and convicted criminals. Marsy’s Law for North Dakota will level the playing field to ensure crime victims’ rights are protected in a manner no less vigorous than that of the accused and convicted. Marsy’s Law for North Dakota does this expressly without diminishing the rights of the accused.

Many crime victims and family members have stepped forward to express their support for this measure, sharing their personal struggles within the criminal justice system, such as: not being made aware of court appearances, not being apprised plea agreements before they are submitted, not being notified of release, being harassed by the defense, and not receiving court-ordered restitution.

“We are kidding ourselves if we don’t admit that victims’ rights are being overlooked,” said Wrigley.  “Originally, victims represented their cases before a judge and therefore didn’t need laws guaranteeing they would be part of the process. As our system shifted to having the state prosecute the accused, however, victims are no longer a party to their cases. They have been removed aside from being a witness. Marsy’s Law for North Dakota helps bring the rights of all concerned into balance.”

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Paid for by Marys’s Law for North Dakota, Kathleen Wrigley, Chair.