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Marsy's Law unconstitutional, Montana Supreme Court rules

Wednesday, November 1, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joe Menden
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The Montana Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision has ruled the constitutional initiative known as Marsy's Law unconstitutional.

The court held that the manner in which Constitutional Initiative 116 was submitted to Montana voters was unconstitutional because it violated the separate-vote requirement of Montana Constitution, Article XIV, Section 11.

The separate-vote requirement is a constitutional protection that ensures voters have the option to vote on each change to the Constitution separately. The court held that the separate-vote requirement directs the manner or process by which a proposed amendment is submitted to voters and, in doing so, guards against voter confusion, grouping several issues under one title, and combining unrelated amendments into a single measure which might not otherwise command majority support.

A proposed constitutional amendment violates the separate-vote requirement when the proposal makes two or more changes, either expressly or implicitly, to the Constitution that are substantive and not closely related. When two proposed amendments are not closely related but are nonetheless submitted in one proposal, voters have not been given the option of voting separately on each unrelated change.

In November 2016, a majority of Montana voters approved CI-116, a proposed constitutional amendment presented to the electorate by popular initiative. CI-116 contains four sections and its general purpose is to provide a crime victim with 18 specifically enumerated rights.

Among these rights are the right to due process; the right of privacy, which includes the right to refuse the defendant’s discovery requests; the right to notice of and to be present and heard at various proceedings; the right for the proceedings to be free from unreasonable delay and to a prompt final judgment; and the right to be informed of the rights and advised of the right to seek the advice  and assistance of an attorney. The initiative also provides the manner in which those eighteen rights are to be recognized and effectuated; ensures the provision complements other crime victims’ rights, is self-executing, and requires no additional legislative action; and defines “crime” and “victim.”

The definition of crime encompasses all felonies, misdemeanors, and delinquency proceedings, while victim is defined broadly to include the injured person, his or her kin, and others with substantially similar relationships to the injured person.

Justice Jim Rice dissented from the Court’s opinion, stating that the case was not ripe for constitutional review because CI-116 has not yet been implemented, and its impacts and effects will depend on how a court interprets and applies its provisions to particular circumstances. Further, the dissenting justices believed the Court applied an over-restrictive test in determining whether CI-116 constituted multiple amendments, which could undermine the future exercise of the right of initiative by Montana citizens.

Justice Beth Baker joined in Justice Rice's dissent.