Marsy's Law implications remain blurry
In November, North Dakotans overwhelmingly passed Ballot Measure 3, a victims' rights measure known as Marsy's Law. More than a month after its approval, lawyers and members of law enforcement remain unclear on what the latest addition to the sta...
In November, North Dakotans overwhelmingly passed Ballot Measure 3, a victims' rights measure known as Marsy's Law. More than a month after its approval, lawyers and members of law enforcement remain unclear on what the latest addition to the state Constitution will look like.
The measure added a new section to the Constitution establishing that all victims be treated with dignity and respect, the right for victims to refuse interview depositions from defense attorneys and the right to be informed of the status of the case and offender within the criminal justice system. The full text of the amendment is 1,125 words.
The law went into effect 30 days following the election, but in the early going the implications those 1,125 words will have on the information law enforcement release to the public and media are still being determined.
In Grand Forks, city police began carrying "Marsy's cards" last week. The cards, which contain 19 paragraphs explaining victims' rights and information on legal and victims advocacy resources, is distributed to anyone who is the victim of a reported crime, according to Deputy Police Chief Jim Remer.
But the rights that go along with Marsy's Law, many of which already exist, are not automatic.
"This right has to be requested in some way," said Jack McDonald, a Bismarck attorney who specializes in media law and represents the North Dakota Newspaper Association.
Should that request not be made, McDonald said the information should be released as it has been previously.
On the Marsy's card carried by Grand Forks police, a line in bold at the bottom reads "You must affirmatively assert these rights with the prosecutor handling your case".
Remer said the Police Department has discussed the new law with the State's Attorney's Office, with City Attorney Howard Swanson and internally. The department is trying to be cautious and deliberate in how it adjusts in the early stages of Marsy's Law.
"We're erring on the side of protecting people's rights under the Constitution with this new law and making sure we're getting good advice, that we're not jeopardizing anything with what we're doing ," Remer said.
The law has raised concerns that law enforcement may release less information to the public.
"I would hope they don't use this law to give out even less information than they want to give out on certain issues," McDonald said.
But Grand Forks Police officers say the department will release information, but will be more cautious about details that identify victims. Remer said in situations of personal or property crime, the Police Department will be releasing the street and block number of the crime location. Items such as the victim's name and relationship between the victim and the accused will not be released.
"I think that in our community, we as a police department have worked very hard to ensure that we're providing information that is appropriate and that should be released at the proper time to people that want to have that information," Remer said. "While we try to do that, we also see that this change in our Constitution is really going to change how some of those things are done."
As the department adjusts, Remer said they will be working more closely with attorneys to determine what they can and cannot release.
McDonald said the law should not apply to certain situations police are involved in that are not necessarily criminal, such as a fire or a car accident. Events that occur in public will remain public information.
In accident reports, the Grand Forks police and the North Dakota Highway Patrol have not altered their formats since the law came into effect.
Also, adding victims' rights to the Constitution does not change the fact that a right to public information is also part of the Constitution, McDonald said. Nor does it mean that the new right to refuse deposition by a defense lawyer can interfere with an accused party's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.
"All constitutional rights coincide with other constitutional rights," McDonald said.