Judge Bruce Haskell presided over a different type of courtroom meeting Tuesday evening at the Burleigh County Courthouse.
He, Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Marina Spahr, criminal justice attorney Lloyd Suhr and others came together for a two-hour session to summarize and discuss the path of defendants in the criminal justice system. From investigating to charging to trial and sentencing, the legal panel took questions from an audience of about 20 people, including child and adult protective service workers, legal staff and residents.
The panel also addressed challenges in today's legal system, including the CSI effect on juries, difficulties with Marsy's Law and defending people accused of heinous crimes.
"People don't understand how hard it is to convict somebody of a crime," said Sgt. Mike Bolme. "It's a lot of heavy lifting. It's not easy to get a jury of 12 people to agree on something."
Many jurors have indicated they want to hear every scrap of potential evidence, particularly fingerprints and DNA, as television crime shows portray.
"Never once have I had a case solved by fingerprints," Bolme said. "Never a single case of mine in 675 cases."
The CSI effect has brought certain expectations from juries, according to Bolme.
Prosecutors have a lot of power, Haskell said.
"Obviously by charging, they have a tremendous effect on someone's life," Haskell said.
Spahr said prosecutors analyze everything before them in a case to see where charges may fit under criminal laws.
"You have to prove certain things," Haskell said. "Their job is not to prosecute but to do justice."
One new element to the criminal justice system has caused a bit of a stir. Marsy's Law relating to victims' rights, overwhelmingly approved by state voters last year, is "not legally specific enough for us," Spahr said.
Challenges include the lack of a definition of a victim and a lack of accountability in the law's enforcement.
"There's nothing to stop a judge from saying no to victims. There's no remedy," Haskell said.
"We're figuring out how Marsy's Law plays into what we're already doing," said Spahr, pointing out the new law brings redundant rights granted under North Dakota's Victim Bill of Rights.
The panel also addressed defendants with behavioral health issues, including resources for mentally ill, violent offenders.
"That's a huge gap to fill," Haskell said.
Another law session will examine civil law issues, including family law and evictions, from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Burleigh County Courthouse. Participation is free.