Marsy's Law implementation has made it harder for victims to access services

Published: May. 21, 2018 at 9:43 PM CDT
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While the idea of Marsy's Law is to protect victims, its implementation in South Dakota has had unintended consequences for law enforcement -- and for victims.

It's strengthened victims' rights, but has also had unintended consequences.

"One of the problems that we've noticed is that State's Attorney's office -- their victim witness assistants -- aren't as available to work with survivors of domestic violence," said Michelle Markgraf, Executive Director at The Compass Center.

The State's Attorney's office in Minnehaha County is overloaded with hundreds of cases each and is short on staff.

"They just don't have the time or ability like they used to," Markgraf said.

Because those assistants are tied up helping other victims.

"If an apartment window is broken, is that the person living there? Is it the owner? Is it the company out of state? Who has to be notified every time there's a court hearing?" said Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead.

Every time a person accused of a crime is in court or due to be released, the victim of that crime, even something like a vandalism, has to be notified.

A 'yes' vote on June 5 will pass 'Amendment Y' which House Speaker Rep. Mark Mickelson said will strengthen victims' rights and allow those advocates to get back to helping victims of more serious crimes.

"It will allow victims to opt in and out of those protections," Mickelson said.

Right now, all victims are automatically opted in.

"It's about doing what's right for the victims," said Minnehaha County Commission Chair Cindy Heiberger, "To make sure we're putting the people who need the protection with the resources that they need."

One of those resources that's also been harder to come by? Victim-advocate communication with police. Advocates used to be able to speak with police to get updates on the case and then share that information with survivors. Markgraf said they've found loopholes by signing off to allow those advocates to know the details from police, but it's not as easy as it used to be.

"Our client wouldn't want to talk with the detectives directly, it was just something scary to them, or they were intimidated by it," Markgraf said. "So they'd want the victim advocate to do it for her or him and so with the passage of Marsy's Law, that was no longer available to us."

Markgraf said The Compass Center cannot support a yes or no vote for Amendment Y, but that studies show victims who have access to an advocate who can communicate with police for them are more likely to go through with prosecution.

Cory Heidelberger (D-Aberdeen) who is running for Senate in District 3 said the amendment should be repealed altogether.

"Marsy's Law should be repealed for exactly the reasons that Y supporters Michelle Markgraf and Sheriff Mike Milstead admitted today," Heidelberger said in an email. "Marsy's Law has cost lots of money, made it harder for advocates and law enforcement to help crime victims, and hindered police from investigating and solving crimes."

"Amendment Y itself is being sold under false pretenses. The supporters' tweets and mailers say that Y 'protects' and 'strengthens' victim rights, when in fact Y reduces victim rights," Heidelberger said. "When a campaign can't be honest, it doesn't deserve anyone's vote. The only guarantee of savings would come from full repeal."

"I understand that repeal isn't an option for voters in June," Heidelberger

said. "By rejecting Y, we keep the pressure on the Legislature to put a full repeal on our ballot, end the damage Marsy's Law is doing to South Dakota, and encourage other states to reject this California billionaire's bad initiative."

Monday was the last day to register to vote for the June 5 primary election.