BISMARCK, N.D. — An expanded list of rights for crime victims that a California billionaire successfully pushed in North Dakota doesn’t appear to be having much negative impact on law enforcement and prosecutors in the state so far, officials told lawmakers Tuesday.
North Dakota voters overwhelmingly approved a measure known as Marsy’s Law as a constitutional amendment in November, joining California, Illinois, South Dakota, and Montana which have adopted similar laws.
The law guarantees crime victims and their families the right to participate in judicial proceedings, and it expands their privacy rights, among other provisions that impose additional obligations on the criminal justice system.
The law allows victims of crimes to “assert” their rights at any time, beginning with the first contact with law enforcement.
Bismarck Deputy Chief Randy Ziegler told the Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee that officers give victims of crimes a card summarizing their rights under the new law. He said only 11 victims of crimes in Bismarck have evoked their rights since the law was enacted in December, he said.
Ziegler told the panel he has talked with police officials in several of the state’s biggest cities and they have reported similar “impact” that he described as “very, very minimal.”
Under the law, a victim who does not evoke their rights, must notify the prosecuting attorney in the jurisdiction.
Ward County prosecutor Rozanna Larson told the panel that many of the provisions already were in place in North Dakota before the law was enacted.
The law has created much additional work, such as having to redact more information from documents, she told the panel, which is studying the effects of law and will eventually report its findings to the full Legislature.
It also has created several potential issues, such as timely notification of victims, or situations where a case could potentially be dismissed if a defendant can’t confront a victim because the victim refuses to be identified, Larson said in an interview.
The law is named after California college student Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend. Her brother, billionaire Henry Nicholas, has been bankrolling a national effort to expand the law into more states. He was the sole contributor to the campaign in North Dakota, putting roughly $2.8 million into the effort to pass the measure.
Officials representing crime victims and defense attorneys and prosecutors had called it a bad idea that will have unintended consequences.
The state earlier estimated the cost of implementing the law would be about $2 million a year because of increased workloads by agencies in the criminal justice system.