SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Voters in both North Dakota and South Dakota are being asked this November whether they want to change their state constitutions to incorporate rights for crime victims. It’s a move already made in other states with legislation commonly known as “Marsy’s Law.”
Here’s a look at the amendments:
WHAT THEY WOULD DO
Marsy’s Law would establish constitutional rights for crime victims including privacy, protection from harassment or abuse and timely notice of trial, sentencing and post-judgment proceedings. Victims would have the right to be notified of the escape or release of the accused.
The proposal would require that victims are notified of their rights, which would also include the opportunity to offer input during the case. The amendment defines a victim as someone who suffers physical, psychological or financial harm from a crime or attempted crime. A victim’s spouse and family members would also be covered.
WHAT SUPPORTERS SAY
The plan would make sure victims have the same protections as criminal defendants, said Kathleen Wrigley, wife of North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley and the chairwoman of the effort to pass Marsy’s Law in the state. Too many victims aren’t notified of upcoming criminal proceedings, said Wrigley, whose brother was killed in 1991.
Supporters say crime victims should be given information about their rights and services available; should be notified of proceedings and major developments in their case; and be allowed to give input on plea agreements, among other things.
The goal is to make it a priority for victims to be heard and protected, Marsy’s Law for South Dakota Outreach Director Tami Haug-Davis said. “It’s time,” she said. “It’s past due.”
Foes argue Marsy’s Law would bog down the system for victims while increasing court-related costs. They say many of the rights included in the amendment are already in state law.
Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo said he doesn’t think that less serious cases such as criminal trespass and disorderly conduct deserve the same level of attention as homicide or aggravated assault.
“We’re going to be trading off the most serious victims for what I have called a California solution looking for a South Dakota problem,” Vargo said.
Other states that have approved Marsy’s Law don’t have South Dakota’s tax system, and counties don’t have the money to take on another state mandate, said opponent Ryan Kolbeck, president of the South Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The law is named after California college student Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend. A week after she was killed, her mother and brother were confronted by the suspect at a store. They did not know the man had been released on bail.
If approved by voters, the Dakotas would join California and Illinois in adopting Marsy’s Law. Her brother, billionaire Henry Nicholas, is bankrolling the national effort to expand the law into more states, including Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Montana and Nevada.
Concerns raised during the 2008 Marsy’s Law campaign in California haven’t materialized in San Luis Obispo County, said District Attorney Dan Dow, who has served since 2014. A longtime prosecutor, Dow said Marsy’s Law hasn’t caused funding difficulties for his office largely because victims’ assistance has been a priority for decades.
He said that when a case is filed, an advocate notifies the victim of their rights and tallies the rights the victim wants to assert so the prosecutor has that information starting at the initial hearing in the case. The measure gave prosecutors a mandate to make sure victims are always considered throughout the criminal justice process, said Dow, who isn’t involved in the campaign.
“I think Marsy’s rights are at the core of what a prosecutor is doing every day,” Dow said. “It helps us to serve victims fully and completely in every case.”
WHERE THE MONEY IS
Pro-amendment groups in the Dakotas have received from Nicholas at least $1.9 million — roughly $800,000 in South Dakota and about $1.1 million North Dakota — according to the latest state finance records. A spokeswoman for national group Marsy’s Law for All declined to disclose additional financial information.
The Dakotas campaigns have launched television and radio advertisements.
Opponents will likely bring in far less than the backers of the Marsy’s Law amendments. In North Dakota, opponents are focusing on a grassroots campaign without a set fundraising goal, No On 3 Treasurer Erica Shively said. South Dakota opposition group No on S hasn’t yet filed a campaign finance report.
“We certainly can’t compete with the $800,000 that the billionaire from California is chucking into this thing,” group Chairman Jason Adams said.
South Dakota’s amendment is Constitutional Amendment S and North Dakota’s is Initiated Constitutional Measure No. 3.
Follow James Nord on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Jvnord