Interim Judiciary chairman: Marsy's Law still raising questions

Nov 8, 2017

The chairman of the Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee says Marsy’s Law – the initiated law that’s now a part of the state Constitution – is raising a lot of questions.

The measure – passed by North Dakota voters last November -- put a specific list of crime victims’ rights in the state Constitution.

Recently, a police officer who was involved in an altercation and shooting at a Bismarck motel tried to invoke Marsy's Law to keep his identity secret. But his name appeared on court documents.

"It's different unanswered questions for each component of the criminal justice system," said Sen. David Hogue (R-Minot).

Hogue said the measure is open to some diferent interpretations.  He said one thing that is not clear is whether a victim may have to invoke the rights under Marsy’s law – or if the rights are expressly granted.

"The measure says there are certain rights that must be invoked," Hogue said. "And there are others it is not necessary to invoke. So it's kind of a mixed bag."

Hogue said if his committee and the 2019 Legislature believe the law needs to be changed, it will be a more complicated process than it would be if Marsy’s Law were statutory.

"It's the responsibility of the Legislative branch to make laws and say what they are," Hogue said. "And where we perceive ambiguity or conflict, we should endeavor to resolve that."

Hogue said in this case, because Marsy's Law is in the Constitution, the Legislature would have to propose a subsequent Constitutional amendment.

"It would be an amendment to amend that Constitutional provision," Houge said.

That would mean it would be put to the voters of North Dakota, probably in 2020.