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Chief's Corner

Assistant Chief Mike Reitan

The scales of justice have long symbolized the balance between truth and fairness within the modern-day judicial system.

In criminal matters, the balance of the scale is held in favor of the accused based upon the rights granted within the United States Constitution. A person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty within a court of law. The accused must be granted the ability to confront their accuser and examine any evidence that may be presented at trial. The person must not be subjected to the unreasonable search and seizure of their property nor cruel or unusual punishment. The government's burden is to present evidence sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the criminal act for which they have been accused. The weight of the government's evidence placed upon the scale's pan must be great enough to move the balance of the scales of justice from a position of innocence for the defendant to a position of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The U.S. Constitution does not allow the accuser to be elevated to the same level of protection as the accused. The system does provide due process to all parties in the court's action. In North Dakota, North Dakota Century Code 12.1-34 titled the Fair Treatment of Victims and Witnesses. lays out specific rights that must be afforded to victims and witnesses of crime. Two areas, prompt notification of matters relating to the criminal case and notification of appropriate and available public or private programs for victim and witnesses assistance, have a significant impact upon the victim's or witness' experience within the judicial system.

NDCC 12.1-34-06 established the North Dakota Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification, a program which provides an automated service to allow a victim to track an offender's custody, probation and parole, court, sex offender, or protection order status over the phone or internet. The person registered within the program can select to receive automatic notification by phone, email, or text message of any change in status of an offender. Detention centers enter victim contact information into the NDSAVIN program when a suspect is booked into jail. Once the information is uploaded into the statewide system the victim begins receiving notifications. A victim may elect to register by calling toll-free to 1-866-631-8463 or online at www.vinelink.com Notifications are also sent by mail directly to victims and witnesses of crime through the States Attorney's Office.

Victims and witnesses of crimes can learn more about what community services are available by contacting First Link by telephone at 2-1-1 or (701) 235-7335 or online at myfirstlink.org. First Link is a local non-profit based in Fargo that provides information referral services to all of North Dakota and Clay County Minn.. First Link maintains a database of more than 5,000 service providers available to assist victims. First Link operators are available 24 hours a day. Food, shelter, financial assistance and counselling services are just some of the information available.

The judicial system was designed to carry out justice as enacted within the US Constitution. Criminal trial verdicts are not determined by a sense of fairness between suspect and victim but upon the presentation of evidence and proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The balance of the scales of justice remains with the accused who is presumed innocent until proven guilty.