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Proposed ND ballot measure inspired by Marsy’s Law would give crime victims more rights

BISMARCK - Sponsors of a proposed ballot measure inspired by "Marsy's Law" in California want North Dakota voters to strengthen the rights of crime victims.

BISMARCK – Sponsors of a proposed ballot measure inspired by “Marsy’s Law” in California want North Dakota voters to strengthen the rights of crime victims.

A sponsoring committee led by Kathleen Wrigley, wife of Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, has scheduled press conferences Tuesday in Bismarck and Fargo to announce that it will submit petition language to the Secretary of State’s Office.

If the petition is approved, they must collect 26,904 valid signatures by July 11 to put the measure on the November 2016 ballot.

The measure would strengthen victims’ rights as currently listed in state law and add them to the North Dakota Constitution.

They would include the rights to be free from intimidation, harassment and abuse; to prevent the release of information that could be used to harass the victim or their family; to refuse a deposition by the defendant’s attorney; and to be notified when an offender is released or escapes from custody.

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Law enforcement agencies also would have to provide crime victims with a “Marsy’s Card” explaining their rights.

Amanda Godfread of Bismarck-based Odney, who is handling communications for the sponsors and briefed reporters on the proposed language Monday, said it is “quite different” from the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act that California voters approved in 2008. For example, the proposed North Dakota measure contains no parole reforms, which became a contentious part of the California law, she said.

The California law was named after Marsy Nicholas, a college student who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week later, her mother was confronted by the accused killer in a grocery store, not realizing he’d been released on bail.

In North Dakota, defendants’ rights are listed in the state constitution, trumping the rights of victims as listed in state statute, and the proposed measure would give judges discretion if a conflict arises between the two sets of rights, Godfread said.

“Really, the whole goal is to get them on equal legal footing,” she said.

Criminal defense attorney Mark Friese of Fargo said judges don’t have discretion when it comes to interpreting the constitution, and defense attorneys worry about how the measure would affect the discovery process that requires prosecutors to share certain information with the defense.

“There are concerns that it goes too far, that it relegates the rights of individuals accused of crimes and places them in a very disadvantageous position,” he said.

Victims already have substantial rights under the section of state law that provides fair treatment standards for victims and witnesses, he said.

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“I think it’s a solution in search of a problem,” he said.

The proposal is part of a national push to get all 50 states to adopt a version of Marsy’s Law.

Illinois voters approved a victims’ bill of rights last year, and sponsors in South Dakota turned in nearly 53,000 signatures last month, almost double what’s required to get the measure on the November 2016 ballot. Sponsors began circulating petitions in Montana in October.

More than 30 people have joined the North Dakota sponsoring committee, including victim advocacy groups and victims’ family members, law enforcement officials, clergy and Republican and Democratic state lawmakers, Godfread said.

 

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com .

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