Marsy’s Law Constitutional Amendment To Take Effect on July 1 In Montana
In November of 2016, Montana voters overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the Montana Constitution called 'Marsy's Law, enumerating certain rights to crime victims in the state.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion outlines the law that takes effect on July 1.
"Marsy's Law is designed to give specific rights to victims of crime," Bennion began. "They talk about due process, fairness, protection from the accused, and in fact,. there are 18 or 19 separate rights contained within it. The idea was to give crime victims coequal rights with the accused. The voters overwhelmingly approved Marsy's Law because they wanted to see victims of crime get more rights."
Under Marsy’s Law, victims of violent crime must by law be treated with respect and dignity by the criminal justice system. Courts must consider the safety of victims and families when setting bail and release conditions. Family members have legal standing in bail hearings, pleas, sentencing, and parole hearings.
Bennion said the media and even some victim advocate organizations were concerned that the law might be too restrictive, and might even prevent victims from receiving necessary services.
"We tried to remedy part of those through legislation in the last session," he said. "With regard to victim advocates the law does not prevent the giving of information about victims to people who serve victims. Law enforcement must make a reasonable effort to identify victims of crime."
Bennion went on to describe the issuance of what is called a 'Marsy's card.
"People who have been identified as victims will receive what is called a 'Marsy's Card, but others who are unknown to law enforcement will have to come forward and say 'I believe I qualify under Marsy's Law, and I also get these kinds of rights', which would include the right for their information to be kept confidential. The rights spelled out in Marsy's Law are put onto a card or a pamphlet and given to a crime victim.That's important so that a victim can know what their rights are and can exercise them."
The media will also have to pay special attention to the new law so that victims who wish to remain unidentified will have their rights respected.