Kathleen Wrigley: Marsy's Law does not protect victims' names
Voters overwhelmingly passed Marsy's Law for North Dakota into effect last November. Crime victims, their families and our justice system are significantly improved because of the voters' wisdom.
Concerns raised in a recent news story about the release of victims' names are fully put to rest by the guidance opinion issued by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. That opinion makes it clear that the public's interest in knowing the names of crime victims and family members will not be impacted. Same goes for criminal defendants and their attorneys.
The controlling legal guidance should give comfort to all concerned parties. As the guidance provides: "There is nothing under Marsy's Law that would protect the names of a victim or victim's family. There are, however, limited exceptions under the open records law that would protect the identity of certain crime victims. For example, the identity of victims of domestic violence, sexual offences, sexual performance of a child, or human trafficking are protected. ... Child victim names and identifying information, except if they relate to victims of traffic accidents or of a fire, (also) are protected. ... Unless the victim falls into one of those categories, the victim's name cannot be withheld."
With respect to the other notifications to the public, the North Dakota Newspaper Association attorney and watchdog, Jack McDonald, has been quoted in several media stories stating that it is not a logical reading of the law to now consider crimes, fires and accidents that take place in the public to be considered confidential. That means this information will be public, as always.
There is no need to make implementation of this law more complicated than necessary. Similar laws exist in many other states and nationally, without issue.
It is incumbent upon all of us—the legal community, media and private citizens—to use logic and work together to implement the will of the people to protect victims of crime.
Wrigley chaired last year's Marsy's Law for North Dakota campaign.