Implementing “Marsy’s Law” in Montana presents challenges

Posted at 5:26 PM, Mar 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-28 19:26:43-04

Following the passage of Marsy’s Law in the 2016 election in Montana, municipal and county governments around the state have struggled with how to implement the law.

The ballot measure was approved by Montana voters by a 2-to-1 margin, with 325,934 votes for it, and 167,261 against.

Marsy’s Law provides victims with rights to stay informed about the defendant and the proceedings in the case.

Now House Bill 600 aims to more narrowly define Marsy’s Law so that it would mainly apply to violent crimes, and define who a victim is.

On Tuesday the bill passed its first hurdle, the House Judiciary Committee, with an 11 to 8 vote.

Some municipal government officials believe that Montana’s Marsy’s Law bill was written too broadly which would make it difficult to enforce.

Under the current law, any crime – from an accidental fender bender to murder – would fall under Marsy’s Law, which Great Falls city and county attorneys say would create a lot of extra work and slow down the legal system.

"I’ve understood that from people that I‘ve spoken, with but also who aren’t in the legal community, but also in the legal community across the state folks are just surprised at the extent of the application of it," said Great Falls City Attorney Sara Sexe.

HB 600 is meant to clarify the Marsy’s Law legislation that is already in place.

"For example, careless driving or a traffic offense, we deal with a lot of those and if you’re in a traffic offense, a victim of a traffic offense we wouldn’t have to notify you. For us that’s a couple hundred times a year, for the city that’s probably a couple thousand times a year so it will take out a lot of that stuff," said Deputy Cascade County Attorney Josh Racki.

Marsy’s Law will take effect July 1st of this year.

(DECEMBER 6, 2016) Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and the State Board of Canvassers certified the election results of CI-116, also known as Marsy’s Law, on Monday.

The initiative gives expanded rights to victims of crime.

The ballot measure was approved by Montana voters by a 2-to-1 margin, with 325,934 votes for it, and 167,261 against.

Marsy’s Law is named after a California woman was stalked and murdered by her boyfriend in 1983. Henry Nicholas, Marsy’s brother, is the sole financier of the Montana initiative. Nicholas funded campaigns for Marsy’s Law in several states.

While a victim’s advocate does work to keep victims and their families informed about the case, Montana courts are not required under law to provide notice about court hearings or when a defendant has been released.

In addition to providing notice of all court appearances to the victim, Marsy’s Law would also afford representation to all victims and would require the judge to consider the safety and well-being of victims at a defendant’s probation and bond hearings.