North Dakota ‘Marsy’s Law’ Case Questions Whether Insurer Is a ‘Victim’

April 22, 2019

The North Dakota Supreme Court could soon clarify who is considered a victim under Marsy’s Law, which embedded victim’s rights into the state constitution.

The high court is expected to rule in the upcoming months in a case that uses the 2016 constitutional amendment to dispute restitution to an insurance company, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

The law has been debated since North Dakota voters passed the measure three years ago. The law guarantees crime victims and their families the right to participate in judicial proceedings. It also expands their privacy rights, among other provisions.

Police and prosecutors have long argued that the meaning and boundaries of the law are vague.

Justices heard arguments on April 18 about interpretations of Marsy’s Law in the case of Javonne Hunt, a Bismarck man who is fighting a judge’s order that he owes Blue Cross Blue Shield $27,500 in restitution for breaking another man’s jaw.

Hunt has agreed to pay about $3,200 for the injured man’s out-of-pocket medical expenses.

His lawyer, Yancy Cottrill, argued that corporations aren’t victims under Marsy’s Law because the law defines a victim as “a person,” which she interpreted as a human being.

The constitutional amendment states that a victim is “a person who suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological or financial harm as a result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime or delinquent act or against whom the crime or delinquent act is committed.”

Justice Lisa Fair McEvers said corporations are able to sustain financial harm from crimes.

Cottrill agreed, but said that “Marsy’s Law isn’t in place to protect corporations.”

Burleigh County prosecutor Tessa Vaagen argued that in statute, a person is defined as “an individual, organization, government, political subdivision or government agency or instrumentality.”

“Person” in statute and in Marsy’s Law “should be read the same,” so Blue Cross Blue Shield qualifies as a victim, Vaagen said.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling could lead local police to rethink who receives “Marsy’s cards,” which list victims’ rights, said Bismarck Police Deputy Chief Randy Ziegler.

Police distribute the cards daily to people perceived to be victims of crimes, Ziegler said.

“We probably give them out more than we need to, just to cover the bases, so to speak,” Ziegler said. “If there’s ever a doubt, are they a victim, are they not a victim, they get a card.”

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