The Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment – which passed here in North Dakota earlier this month by a wide margin – is a terrible, misguided, poorly-thought-out piece of policy.
The billionaire who funded the ballot measure promoted it in other states as well, including South Dakota where it also passed. But in that state state provisions of the amendment are already creating real headaches. Cops have announced that they will no longer report the locations of crimes because of the new law:
Sioux Falls police will no longer share with the public the addresses where criminal behavior takes place.
All crime locations will be noted only as occurring in one of 17 “district beats” within the city. If a business is burglarized, it will no longer be identified by name. If a homicide occurs in a victim’s home, the exact location of the home will be hidden.
The Sioux Falls Police Department is making the change in response to the Nov. 8 passage of Amendment S, commonly known as Marsy’s Law.
State law allows for the release of crime information to the public, but Police Chief Matt Burns said Amendment S overrides state law on public disclosure of crime information.
“Our job is to look at the new Marsy’s Law and where the conflicts are, because constitutional amendments trump state law,” Burns said.
The constitutional amendment has a provision designed to prevent “the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information about the victim, and to be notified of any request for such information or records.”
It’s worth noting that the measure which passed here in North Dakota has the exact same language. You can read it in full here.
It states that “all victims shall be entitled…beginning at the time of their victimization…the right to prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information about the victim, and to be notified of any request for such information or records. ”
This doesn’t mean that the locations of crime could never be reported, but by giving victims veto power over the release of that information, it does mean that law enforcement cannot announce the locations immediately.
So if there is a murder or a shooting or some other type of crime in your neighborhood law enforcement may not be able to alert you to its location until the alleged victims get a chance to sign off on the release of information.
Jason Glodt, one of the sponsors of this stupidity in South Dakota, says the cops are overreacting. “Marsy’s Law does give victims the right to prevent information from being released that can be used to locate or harass them, but the victim has to take action to invoke their right to such privacy,” Glodt told the Argus Leader. “For example, a victim could simply inform a law enforcement official that they have concerns for their safety and would like to invoke their right to keep their address confidential. Victims deserve to have the right to be protected from further harm.”
I think the cops have the right of this. Under this law victims could rightly argue that they hardly have a right to release this information if the authorities release it immediately. In order for the authorities to protect this right, which is now unfortunately in the state constitution of both North and South Dakota, I’m not sure they have any choice but to delay the release of information.
Which is just dumb. And something which could likely have been avoided were this complicated, sweeping piece of public policy the result of the legislative process instead of campaign politics.
Even more galling is the fact that, in North Dakota, lawmakers cannot change this law for seven years. And even then the changes would, again, have to go on the ballot (as all constitutional amendments must) where they would no doubt face a well-funded campaign from the billionaire who supported the amendment in the first place.
Blow up the initiated measure process, I say. It’s not serving us well.