Marsy's Law Committee Loses Support From Prosecutor

Marsy’s Law for North Dakota is a proposed constitutional amendment which would supposedly enhance the rights of victims which will more than likely be on the November ballot.

So far, despite a deep-pocket campaign apparently funded entirely by California billionaire Henry Nicholas, the measure hasn’t exactly received a warm reception in the state. Organizations representing the state’s criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors have come out in opposition to the measure, and while an organization of sheriffs in the state has endorsed it, not all of the state’s sheriffs are happy about that.

But the measure committee has been able to boast the involvement of at least one county prosecutor. Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning was not only someone who endorsed the measure, but he was officially on the measure’s sponsoring committee.

Only now Henning is distancing himself from Marsy’s Law, saying he’s worried that the new rights for victims it creates could conflict with the interests of the public in prosecuting a case:

“At first glance, I just said, ‘Hey, anything that will help out our victims in many of these lousy cases, I’m all for it,’ ” Henning said.

But after hearing from Marsy’s Law supporters and reviewing the measure more closely at the North Dakota State’s Attorneys’ Association meeting in January, Henning said he wrote to Wrigley informing her that he was withdrawing his support.

“I had to tell them I just don’t agree with their methodology of what they’re trying to do,” he said.

Henning said the measure doesn’t enhance what prosecutors are already required to do under existing protections, which were adopted by state lawmakers in 1987 and have since been updated. And it interjects “a great deal of decision-making” on the part of the victims, he said.

“It puts us in a position where we really are acting as though we’re representing an individual in a criminal case, where that’s a civil court thing,” he said. “The public’s needs and the victim’s desires don’t always square.”

Henning said the measure would hamstring prosecutors.

“In a criminal case, boy, it would blow us out of the water,” he said. “And the additional resources it would require are over and above what we currently have.”

While Henning was the only prosecutor endorsing the measure publicly, a spokeswoman for the effort is quoted in the article saying that there are other prosecutors who are endorsing it, only not publicly. I’m not sure I’d brag about that. It speaks volumes that these men and/or women are apparently reticent to voice their support out loud.

It is gratifying to see Mr. Henning get on the right side of this issue. This ballot measure, while born of pure motives and noble ideas, would be a detriment to criminal justice in North Dakota.

If only people like Henning, instead of endorsing the measure based on superficial descriptions, had taken the time to understand it first.

A criminal case is an adversarial process between the state and the accused. Giving victims rights in those proceedings creates conflicts which diminish the rights of the accused and the ability of the state to prosecute crimes.

North Dakota does a pretty good job protecting victims already. I just don’t think we need this ballot measure.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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