'Equal Victims' Rights' initiative introduced, prosecutors and defense lawyers raising questions | Prairie Public Broadcasting

'Equal Victims' Rights' initiative introduced, prosecutors and defense lawyers raising questions

Dec 15, 2015

A victim rights group wants to put a Constitutional measure on the November ballot next year.

The measure is dubbed "Marsy's Law" -- named for a California college student who was killed by an ex-boyfriend. The accused made bail, and later confronted the woman's mother and brother.

"Today begins a new conversation for victims of crime," said Kathleen Wrigley, the chair of the group. She says the measure will not reduce the rights of criminal defendants.

"Protecting victims and their families does not require that we diminish anyone else's rights or protections," said Wrigley at a Capitol news conference.

"Victims in North Dakota need protection," said Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert, who is also a sponsoring committee member. "Victims in North Dakota need to know that we care about them. Victims in North Dakota need to know that we will not allow them to be victimized again."

The sponsoring committee will need 26,904 valid signatures by July 11th, 2016 to get the measure on the November ballot.

A number of prosecutors and defense attorneys are raising concerns. Aaron Birst of the North Dakota Association of Counties says local states' attorneys are now looking at the proposed ballot language.

"Prosecutors are absolutely pro-victim," said Birst. "Anything that helps victims is a good thing. But any time you get into legal questioning, there's always some questions on what words mean. That has caused some pause, and prosectors want to spend more time reviewing it."

Birst says the North Dakota States’ Attorneys Association will be meeting in January. And he says that group has asked the Marsy’s Law supporters to come and explain what they want to accomplish.

One of the main concerns from defense attorneys is the victim’s right of refusal to any interview, deposition or discovery request from the defendant or the attorney representing the defendant.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger is now reviewing the proposed initiative language.