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Port: Marsy's Law campaign has been bizarre, insulting, inaccurate

MINOT--One of the most contentious areas of our criminal justice system is the balance between protecting the alleged victims of crimes and protecting the rights of defendants.

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columnist Rob Port

MINOT-One of the most contentious areas of our criminal justice system is the balance between protecting the alleged victims of crimes and protecting the rights of defendants.

Take, for instance, the proceedings around a rape accusation. While we all want to be sensitive to the feelings of someone who says they were raped, we should also want to ensure that the person accused of rape has a reasonable chance to explore the accusations and mount a vigorous defense.

Finding the proper balance between these two interests is not easy.

Here in North Dakota, that struggle has taken the form of Measure 3 on the November ballot, a proposal you likely know best as Marsy's Law.

Proponents call their proposal a "victim's rights" amendment to our state constitution which could give alleged victims and their families protections they currently lack.

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Detractors, including this observer, argue that the amendment is at best duplicative of existing state statute and, at worst, would inhibit the ability of defendants to rebut their accusers.

Whatever side of this debate you come down on, I think we can all agree that it's an important one to have.

Unfortunately, the supporters of Marsy's Law seem intent on pulling this debate down into the gutter.

Back in February a Bismarck resident who spent 16 years as a homicide investigator in California wrote a guest post for SayAnythingBlog.com arguing that Marsy's Law is a "bad idea from good people."

In response, Marsy's Law spokeswoman Kathleen Wrigley submitted a guest post saying she is "relieved that Mr. Kaseman is no longer investigating criminal activity because he clearly has a horrible bias."

That sort of personal insult aimed at critics of Marsy's Law has become all too typical of Wrigley's approach to the debate.

In June, when a coalition of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and victims rights advocates announced their intention to oppose Marsy's Law, Wrigley accused them of callousness.

"Today a few prosecutors and victims' advocates are showing their callous disregard for equal rights for crime victims in North Dakota," she said in a press release at the time.

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When retired judge and former North Dakota Attorney General Bob Wefald announced Wednesday, Sept. 21, that he would be chairing the committee opposing Marsy's Law, Wrigley made a truly bizarre statement claiming the opposition was somehow comparable to opposing the 19th amendment.

"Ironically, the arguments our opposition makes to these rights are the same arguments used against the women's right to vote last century," she said.

But insults, at least, aren't inaccuracies.

The Marsy's Law committee has also been inundating the state's media outlets with ads so emotionally manipulative they should insult the intelligence of any rational voter. "It's all emotion and scare tactics," one commenter on my blog said. "Their radio/TV ads and mailers are all about rapey men coming to get you if you don't vote for Measure 3."

They're also inaccurate.

A recent Marsy's Law ad focuses on Pam Perleberg, sister to Donnie Perleberg, who was murdered at a wedding reception in New Rockford last year.

"Without Marsy's Law, Donnie's murderer can be let out of jail, and my family might not even be notified," Perleberg says during the ad.

That's not accurate. North Dakota has an existing victim notification service in statute which sends out alerts - by phone, email, or text message - about incarcerations, releases, trial dates, hearings, probation, paroles, and restraining orders to anyone who requests them.

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For free.

"Existing North Dakota law already provides that correctional authorities must notify victims and family members of a defendant's release from custody," Fargo-based defense attorney Mark Friese told me. "Without Marsy's Law, families electing to receive notifications will be notified."

Maybe the Marsy's Law committee should fire off a few more insults before voters catch on to this inconvenient truth.

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