TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — “Marsy’s Law’ Is A Bad Idea

“Marsy’s Law” is a bad idea. It proposes to amend the North Dakota Constitution because victims’ rights have not been respected … in California. North Dakota already has remedies in place that accomplish what this nationally promoted measure seeks to accomplish.

Just ask Fargo attorney Mark Friese of the Vogel Law Firm.

Mark worked in the Bismarck Police Department before completing law school at the University of North Dakota. Upon his return to his hometown, Fargo, he spent a lot of time in my municipal court, as is the custom of most law firm lawyers who handle criminal defense. Newbies spend a lot of time there until they establish themselves and go on to more cases in the higher courts.

In all my 45 years on the municipal bench, never was I more impressed with an attorney than Mark. (Gordon Dexheimer, too, but he gets all emotional if I refer to him, so I won’t.)

Mark researches and has a real grasp of the law and all it entails. He looks at criminal issues from both sides, applies his common sense and proceeds from a position of knowledge, experience and strength. He carefully outlines and supports his positions.

He also has taken to task some who don’t listen to sound advice, and they ultimately paid for not listening. (This should ring a bell with anyone in Fargo city government who didn’t listen to him on the subject of their outrageous attempt at raising city court fines.)

Mark and others vigorously oppose “Marsy’s Law,” a proposal to amend the North Dakota Constitution because victims’ rights have not been respected … in California.

Mark has authorized me to quote his work here: “This proposal is an initiated measure which claims in this State to advance victims’ rights. Wrong. In our State, it would create irreconcilable conflict with existing laws and procedures and have dire consequences.

“The North Dakota Century Code Chapters 12.l-34 (Fair Treatment of Victims and Witnesses) and 12.1-35 (Child Victim and Witness Fair Treatment Standards), on the books since 1987, ensure fair treatment, respect and preservation of the rights of victims and witnesses.”

My personal opinion mirrors what Mark has said.

Our North Dakota judges, the North Dakota Supreme Court and the prosecutors and defense attorneys across this state provide a criminal justice system with all the built-in safeguards. Attorneys and judges each take an oath of office; each has a code of judicial and attorney conduct. There is a remedy for every breach of conduct.

In most cases, that remedy is to right a wrong ruling by a judge or impermissible activity by an attorney. In all cases, remedies are already in place to address a grievance. That is what the law is all about.

Briefly, if this proposed constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law were to pass, it would create havoc in the North Dakota Century Code. Only God knows how many sections would be impacted. That would only be discovered after some right that was previously protected was now adversely impacted by this unnecessary law.

Constitutional provisions are broad. Court interpretation and litigation are required to define them. Statutes, on the other hand, are very precise and are less subject to interpretation. In North Dakota, they now already provide precisely what the victims’ advocates want.

The current system can handle cranky lawyers who might try to abuse witnesses. The Supreme Court can address any erroneous ruling by the lower courts … and trust me, when the lawyers get out of line, the ethical consequences can be severe.

Of course, we all know of some outlandish decisions and perhaps some abuses. But it is also true that in this state, they are the exception, not the rule.

I do not for one moment question the motives of those who have proposed Marsy’s Law. They have suffered severe personal loss, and that is a tragedy that cannot be undone.

But if there is a need to reinforce state law to reflect their concerns, it can be done by statute. They can ― and should ― point out any statutory oversight or weakness and then propose corrective legislation.

Constitutional amendments are very difficult to obtain for good reason: They should be pursued as an absolute last resort, and they should actually accomplish the desired goals. This one fails on both counts.

For an eye-opening account of the disastrous results after this law was passed in California, check out this, which appeared in the San Francisco Bay View, a national black newspaper.

Will North Dakota go to pot?

Speaking more of good and bad laws, two measures relating to marijuana are being circulated in North Dakota. One would legalize medical marijuana. The other seeks to legalize the growing, possession, use and distribution of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia.

The first measure should be approved. It would legalize the medical use of marijuana. Products would be dispensed by state-licensed facilities and closely monitored and controlled by law enforcement. People with severe medical problems have a demonstrable need for it. Those folks shouldn’t be deprived because of the second measure being circulated, an empty-headed proposal.

The second measure would legalize pot for those 21 or older. That’s akin to letting the horse out of the barn for a second time. (Booze was the first.)

I don’t need to educate anyone, I think, on the vast economic cost of alcohol abuse. Legalizing pot would just open another door and result in graduation to more serious and addicting drugs. If God had wanted everyone to have an artificial and unnecessary high, he’d have made us plants!

Good Lord, how can the proponents of legalizing marijuana even think of that with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz running for office? Just imagine what they’d be saying if they got to light up before a press conference. (On the other hand, in the case of Donny, that might explain the countless moronic comments he already makes.)

After last week’s comments …

Just as I was thinking local law enforcement would decide to quiet down the deafening truck and muffler folks, some of them have apparently decided to drive by my home some more and gun their engines.

That’s OK. Some of them may have flat tires by the time they get home and wonder why. Do flat-head screws really cause flats? (No, no, I didn’t really put any screws in the road. But I thought about it.) Amen.

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Tom Davies

Judge Tom Davies wielded the gavel in Fargo's Municipal Court for nearly 40 years, the longest term of any elected official in the city's history, until health problems forced his retirement in 2012. Born in Grand Forks, the UND business and law graduate has lived in Fargo since 1956, when his father, Ronald Davies, was appointed a federal judge. The outspoken, irreverent jurist remains an insatiable consumer of news, sharing his observations in Moorhead's weekly newspaper, The Extra … and now here on the Fish blog. As a child, Davies delivered the Grand Forks Herald and sold them on the street corner.

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