Lacee Anderson: Port Throws Marsy’s Law Under the Bus

Kathleen Wrigley, chairwoman of the Marsy's Law for North Dakota campaign in 2016, speaks about the initiated measure.

Rob Port’s latest attempt to throw Marsy’s Law under the bus as a “tragic mistake” is ill-advised and uninformed.

Port references a recent incident involving a police officer who invoked his Marsy’s Law rights after shooting a member of the public who allegedly attacked him. Among the many erroneous assumptions Port has made in his critcism of Marsy’s Law, Port claims the police officer “declared” himself a victim to keep his name out of the media.

First, under Marsy’s Law, one cannot “declare” themselves a victim. Victim status is determined when a crime has occurred and there is probable cause to determine someone has been a victim of that crime. This is typically determined by law enforcement at the time of the event or soon after, by a prosecutor, or by a judge at a later date. You cannot make this declaration for yourself even if you are a police officer. In this case, his department looked at the incident and determined his was a victim based on probable cause. If the prosecutor determines there is no crime, then there is no longer any victim status and his name would be released.

At the end of the day, I think we need to recognize the tough jobs of police officers and the difficult and scary situations they are put in instead of using them as examples to bemoan a law Port happens to not like (or sufficiently understand it would seem).

Second, Port claims that police have “vast power over the public.” They may have authority over the public in certain situations to protect people and property, but only the courts truly have “power” to ultimately determine action against an individual. Even if a police officer arrests and incarcerates someone, that quickly is subject to review by a neutral judge. Even in their authority, police officers are held accountable by prosecutors and judges and a system of checks and balances.

To that end, Port also claims Marsy’s Law is somehow preventing needed “transparency” in the process. I disagree that it’s transparency we need. The system of holding law enforcement accountable through a review process and in the courts is what keeps things in check. Not simply releasing someone’s name. Furthermore, if there is a civil lawsuit or disciplinary action of some kind, those names will be public record. This formal review and check and balance process is the best way to determine an officer’s background, as all background information related to that officer will need to be made available in discovery. Immediately releasing the name of an officer who has been attacked and who has been determined through probable cause to be a victim is unnecessary.

The fact of the matter is law enforcement officers are people. They are citizens of our community that, like all of us, have rights. Do we claim that they don’t have a right to free speech? Or that they shouldn’t be allowed to confront their accusers before them? No. And police should also be afforded the rights that the people of this state overwhelmingly passed to protect themselves as victims when probable cause has determined them as such.

Was the officer justified in using deadly force? The judicial process will determine that publicly. If it goes to trial, the public, and most importantly the defendant, will be made fully aware of all information needed to make that determination.

At the end of the day, I think we need to recognize the tough jobs of police officers and the difficult and scary situations they are put in instead of using them as examples to bemoan a law Port happens to not like (or sufficiently understand it would seem). It’s time to move on.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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