When voters approved Marsy’s Law last year there were a lot of gloomy predictions about its impact on law enforcement and the courts. So far, most of those predictions haven’t occurred.
The constitutional amendment guarantees 19 rights to victims, such as the right to prevent the disclosure of information that could be used to locate or harass them and to the timely notice of criminal proceedings. Sixty-two percent of North Dakotans who went to the polls liked the idea and the measure passed easily. Opponents feared the measure would result in more work for law enforcement, infringe on the rights of defendants, slow court proceedings and possibly make it more difficult to prosecute cases.
Randy Ziegler, Bismarck deputy police chief, told the Forum News Service the law has been invoked 11 times to Bismarck officers. "Eleven is a very, very small number," he said. At the Burleigh County State's Attorney's Office, 26 people have asserted parts of the law.
Across the state law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have tracked the use of Marsy’s Law to varying degrees. There don’t seem to be any definitive numbers on how much it has been used. Ward County has reported the most issues with the law. Ward County State's Attorney Roza Larson said some parts of Marsy's Law are invoked in the county "almost always."
It’s apparent North Dakota voters wanted victims to get a fair shake. They didn’t see the law as handicapping law enforcement, they saw it making life easier for crime victims.
There are still questions about the implementation of the law. Cases involving juveniles could become an issue. How much information about juveniles can be released to victims? The attorney general’s office has issued one opinion on the law and provided an 11-page guidance document to explain the law’s requirements to law enforcement officials and prosecutors.
Aaron Birst, executive director of the North Dakota State's Attorneys' Association, believes the state Supreme Court will eventually have to provide a ruling to guide law enforcement. "Then we can use that one seminal case to figure out how to treat all the other little issues that pop up," he said.
The cost of the law also was an issue. The Office of Management and Budget estimated the measure would cost almost $4 million during this two-year budget cycle. Chief Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel said the attorney general’s office was given $815,000 to update the Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification program, given that the existing system wasn't able to provide all the notifications required by Marsy's Law. It will take two to three years to complete that project. Other costs appear uncertain.
The bottom line, Marsy’s Law hasn’t resulted in many of the problems that opponents predicted. It’s still early, but it appears the state can make Marsy’s Law work.