According to a press release which just dropped in my inbox this morning Kathleen Wrigley, wife to North Dakota Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley, will be heading up a ballot initiative effort to pass Marsy’s Law.
You can read about the history of that law on Wikipedia. Essentially it would put in state law a series of new “rights” for victims of crimes and their families. In fact, it has literally been called a “victim’s bill of rights” in other states.
Wrigley is an obvious choice to head up the effort. Not only was her husband North Dakota’s top federal prosecutor for some time, but she and her family were victimized when her brother – a police officer in Pennsylvania – was murdered. In fact, her family lost a fight to keep the killer in that case on death row earlier this year.
I haven’t seen a copy of the ballot language to be submitted in North Dakota, but in other states the initiative has included:
- The requirement that law enforcement inform victims of their rights in the same way the accused are informed of theirs. A “Marsy statement” versus a “Miranda statement.”
- The right for victims to be heard in court pre-sentencing. Usually this is done post-sentencing.
- Victims have a right to legal counsel beyond that of the prosecution
- Longer gaps between parole hearings, thus reducing the likelihood of parole
- A right to refuse to cooperate with the defendant’s requests for some types of evidence and testimony
- Return of property no longer needed as evidence
- Safety of the victims and/or their families must be taken into account when setting bail
I’m not sure which of these will make it into the North Dakota iteration of this law. I can tell you that, so far, I’m not liking what I’m seeing. And it’s not just because I have a deep-seated dislike of laws named after people (see: Rob Port’s Law) which I generally find obnoxious and manipulative.
For one thing, I’m not sure I’m ok with inviting the families of victims to have a greater role in criminal proceedings against a defendant. We can certainly be sympathetic to the plight of these families, what they have to offer a criminal proceeding is generally long on emotion and short of evidentiary substance. Serious criminal proceedings are a place for dispassionate review of cold, hard facts. Not demonstrations by aggrieved victims and their family members.
For another, I’m not sure that dragging out the period between parole hearings – one of the most controversial aspects of this proposal in other states – is a good idea at a time when our jails are already overcrowded. Overincarceration is a real problem in America. This proposal, presuming it would reform the parole process, would undoubtedly make it worse.
And the idea that defendants could be denied potential evidence from uncooperative victim and/or their families who would be protected by the law in that regard is downright scary.
I’m anxious to see the wording of the ballot language, and I’m open to be convinced that this is something North Dakota needs, but as it stands right now I’m skeptical that this would be good reform for our criminal justice system.