City Attorney – Big Problems Possible With Marsy’s Law – State ‘Blindsided’ Municipalities
Marsy's Law, the Montana Constitutional Amendment that provides extra rights for crime victims, could be fraught with unintended consequences for city and county law enforcement agencies.
Missoula City Attorney Jim Nugent said no one in the legislature or those promoting the constitutional amendment called Marsy's Law ever contacted him , or any other city attorney to examine the possible consequences of the law.
"I'm not aware of them talking about it, or even discussing it with any municipal officials before they got it approved by the Montana Attorney General to put on the ballot," Nugent said. "If you look at the crime control figures, Missoula is number one with the most filings, the city of Billings is second, Yellowstone County is third. and Great Falls is fourth."
Nugent said the law took the municipalities by complete surprise.
"It totally blindsided us," he said. "It's also the fact that government employees are not allowed to take positions on ballot issues according to state law, so we can't do much. If someone would have asked, we could have told him that much of what they were trying to address is already set forth in Montana state statute. However, the part about giving them notice for every single step of the process, that's one of the things that's so burdensome. For example, say someone wants to plead guilty during a weekend court appearance, there's no chance to inform the victim, so the court is going to have to delay a lot of things until the victims can be notified."
Another problem Nugent points out is physically notifying the victims during every step of the criminal process.
"You might not be able to catch them on the telephone, and that could cause even more delays," he said. "So, the defendant will have to be released at times because we haven't been able to make contact with the victim because they're not answering the phone or checking their email."
Nugent said the Montana ACLU has filed a lawsuit to suspend the implementation of Marsy's Law.
"The ACLU and several other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit yesterday to challenge the constitutionality of this and they filed it directly with the Montana Supreme Court, so this could be delayed again," he said. "Then we'll have to wait for the court to decide if it is in fact an unconstitutional proposal they way they've structured it."