HELENA — A list of rights for crime victims that a California businessman is pushing to enact across the nation amounts to a hostile takeover of Montana’s constitution and should be blocked, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Montana voters approved the crime-victims’ rights known as Marsy’s Law as a constitutional amendment last fall, joining Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota and California as states where the law has passed.
The law is named after Marsy Nicholas, a California college student who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Her brother, Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Nicholas, campaigned to pass Marsy’s Law first in California in 2008, then in the four other states and is now pushing to enact it in nine more.
The law gives crime victims and their families the right to participate in judicial proceedings, to be notified of changes in the case or of an offender’s release and it expands their privacy rights, among other provisions.
Marsy’s Law will take effect in Montana on July 1, unless the state’s Supreme Court agrees with the prosecutor, defense attorneys, counties and civil-liberties organization who are trying to stop it.
The law, known in Montana as Constitutional Initiative 116, isn’t tailored to the existing provisions of Montana’s constitution, and it would amend or conflict with at least eight of them, according to the lawsuit.
Prosecutors could be required to take on cases they might not otherwise, the due-process rights of accused violators would be harmed and public information would be undermined to add privacy protections for relatives, friends and corporations, according to the lawsuit.
“CI-116 will force me to make the impossible choice between seeking justice for all Montanans and enforcing long-standing constitutional protections or serving the narrow, competing interests of Marsy’s Law’s newly expanded pool of victims,” said Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher, one of the plaintiffs.
The state’s high court should block the law because it violates a constitutional provision that prohibits multiple subjects from being included in a single ballot initiative, the lawsuit said. The law changes so much within the state constitution that it can’t be considered a single subject, the plaintiffs said.
“The prescient framers of Montana’s Constitution protected against this type of out-of-state financed, ‘hostile takeover’ of Montana’s Constitution,” the lawsuit says.
Chuck Denowh, a lobbyist who is the spokesman for the Marsy’s Law initiative backers in Montana, said the plaintiffs are trying to deprive victims of the rights that voters approved by a two-to-one margin. “There will always be a handful of people that simply don’t believe crime victims should have equal constitutional protections to their offenders,” Denowh said.
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