My Column Opposing The "Marsy's Law" Initiative In South Dakota, Followed By A Response From Jason Glodt, Who Heads Up The Campaign Supporting it.
Voting against Amendment S ("Marsy's Law") on November's ballot isn't a vote against crime victims' rights so much as it is a vote against a giant can of worms. This thing is
loaded with unintended consequences, so much so that the South Dakota Bar Association unequivocally said "no" to it at its business meeting last June.
Officially called "An Amendment To The SD Constitution To Expand Rights For Crime Victims," the proposal would expand, codify and place those rights into our state Constitution. Identical measures, all of them bankrolled by California software billionaire Harry T. Nicholas, whose sister was murdered in 1983, will appear on Montana and North Dakota ballots this year.
Nicholas has had some success with this endeavor, Marsy's Law having been adopted by voters in California and Illinois. A 19-item list of the rights proposed by the amendment here in S.D. can be viewed by visiting the Secretary of State's website.
In general, the list guarantees that crime victims can be more involved in the criminal-justice process applied to their alleged assailants. On the surface that seems like a good thing to me, but the details make for complications that I don't think we need here in South Dakota.
I've asked Jason Glodt, the Pierre lawyer who heads up the amendment's campaign, to provide me with some specifics on how existing victims' rights protections have fallen short in our state, but I haven't heard back from him as I write this. When he replies, I'll make note in my blog and provide RCJ editors with the information.
Meantime, former S.D. Attorney General Mark Meierhenry has said that "this is truly an idea chasing a problem that we don't have here in our state." Minnehaha State's Attorney Aaron McGowan adds that Marsy's Law would require state's attorneys and victims' advocates to "spend more time with victims of petty crimes" at the expense of "those affected by more serious crimes."
North Dakota attorney Chad Nodland calls attention to one of the potential fiascos created by the law's requirement that the victim be present (or given the opportunity to be present) at all proceedings involving the accused's disposition after the alleged crime.
Considering that a property crime can be committed while the victim is away, that means the accused has to wait in jail for the victim to be identified, located and physically brought to the proceeding that will release the accused.
Short of specifics, I can't say whether victims' rights in South Dakota need shoring up, but I'm doubtful. The S.D. Bar Association's opposition to this notes that existing statutes already cover victims' rights. Given the phalanx of professionals who oppose this amendment along with my general reluctance to embed our Constitution with a law that has as wide a net as this one, I'm dubious about Marsy's Law and will vote against Amendment S.
Below is a response from Jason Glodt, who heads up the Marsy's Law campaign in South Dakota:
Hello John, every year thousands of South Dakotan crime victims are denied basic victim rights because they are not recognized as “victims” under the legal definition in current codified law. For example, all victims of vehicular homicide, burglary (2nd and 3rd degree, arson, grand theft, misdemeanor sexual assault, hate crimes and forms of human trafficking are not recognized as “victims” and have no rights under current law other than limited rights to restitution. These victims won’t even get access to the State’s new Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification (SAVIN) system that would at least give them notification for when hearings are scheduled or when offenders are released from custody. It is remarkable that our state doesn’t offer this basic service. We are one of the last five states in the nation if implement such an automated notification system and now that we finally have it coming online, it won’t even be available to most victims of crime.
A local story you may have heard about is the case of Jaqoine Ramos…who killed his pregnant girlfriend, Debbie Jo Martinez, in front of her kids in Rapid City. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole, however, his sentence was commuted by Governor Rounds to life in prison with chance of parole. Through the entire process, no family members were given notification about appeals or hearings. The current system failed them at multiple levels. Even through current statutory law required notification and multiple times, the law was ignored multiple times. Ramos had several Supreme Court appeals and UJS never notified any of the family members. When the parole board held a hearing to consider his commutation application, DOC never notified any of the family members (which is very significant, because if the family knew he was trying to get a commutation, they would have attended the hearing to oppose…but since they didn’t know about it and didn’t show up, the parole board logically assumed there was no objection…and thus they recommended a commutation to the Governor). Thereafter, Governor Rounds issued a sentence commutation and nobody in his administration notified the family. The family learned about it in the news after the fact and the Governor couldn’t retract his commutation. Now, Ramos is eligible for parole every 8 months and family members from multiple states drive to Springfield to testify in opposition. They lost their closure and now have to relive the horror of the crimes Ramos committed. One of Debbie Jo’s sisters live in Rapid City. His ex-wife and kids also live in Rapid City. Much of the family lives in Denver.