Officers Express Frustration with Marsy's Law

A law meant to protect victims can be used to identify them.

About 2 weeks ago, a Bismarck Police officer was assaulted. Chief Dan Donlin says the suspect punched the officer repeatedly in the head and was gouging his eyes. The officer fought back and when he tried to taser the subject, that was ineffective. The officer then shot the suspect in the abdomen according to Chief Donlin. The suspect was charged with robbery and simple assault and the case is under investigation.

The officer invoked his Marsy's Law Rights as the victim in the case. However, now Bismarck Police say the law they work to uphold is working against them. The law is meant to protect victims, ensure their rights of privacy, and inform them throughout court proceedings. The Bismarck Police Department wanted their officer's name withheld until the investigation was complete. However the name was released to the public, through court documents. 
As Malique Rankin reports, it is only because of Marsy's Law that the name was found.

A law meant to protect victims, can be used to identify them- and it's entirely legal. 
Marsy's Law has been causing confusion for those meant to enforce it."

Dan Donlin; "Marsy's law is new, its unchartered territory that we're in right now to determine what can be released and what can't be."

Pat Haug: "If you read marsy's law, marsy's law just states "victim" They don't define what a victim is. Is it just the citizen, does it include police officers and stuff like that."

Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin says the intent of the law is good, but the enforcement-- it gets confusing.
Police agencies do not normally worry about the court records system, but now, it tells information the police might not ready to share with the public, including a victim's name.

Dan Donlin; "I believe it basically states in Marsy's law in the constitution that information cannot be released that may assist in locating a victim. Well in today's day and age, if you release the name of a victim, then certainly, there's a higher chance they can be located."

It is the practice of both the Bismarck and Mandan PD to wait until the end of an investigation before releasing an officer's name who was involved in an officer involved shooting.

Pat Haug: "If we would release it in the middle of an investigation, you're not going to get all the details. Other things can come up that could change the course of the investigation so we like to give it out as a complete package."

But that isn't the only issue with the new law that has officer's wary of its enforcement.

Pat Haug; "Is a police officer considered a victim?"

Dan Donlin; "What's the definition of a victim? When does a suspect in the case- when do they lose their rights as a victim? They're still victim. If we have somebody at a home that uses deadly force out in the community cause someone broke in and attacked them and they're justified in using that deadly force and the investigation reveals that, they're a victim. They're a suspect because we're investigating that use of deadly force, but they're a victim when it comes out and there's no charges. That person's name, we can't release if they've invoked Marsy's Law."

Officers are using this incident as an opportunity to show believed weaknesses within the law. They hope clarification and better understanding will improve victim's rights.

Marsy's Law is a constitutional law, meaning making changes isn't as simple as a piece of legislation. The officers we spoke with say they think this law will have to go through the courts on a case by case basis before any clarification is made. 

North Dakota isn't the only state facing issues with the law. Just yesterday the Montana Supreme Court ruled the voter-approved Marsy's Law is unconstitutional. They said the law made several changes to the constitution, even though voters voted for one change.

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