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Montana ACLU files constitutional challenge against Marsy’s Law - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Montana ACLU files constitutional challenge against Marsy’s Law

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A group led by the ACLU of Montana is challenging a voter-approved measure expanding crime victims’ rights as unconstitutional. (MTN News photo) A group led by the ACLU of Montana is challenging a voter-approved measure expanding crime victims’ rights as unconstitutional. (MTN News photo)
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A group led by the ACLU of Montana is challenging a voter-approved measure expanding crime victims’ rights as unconstitutional.

The group – which also includes the Montana Association of Counties, the Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and several individual attorneys – filed a petition Tuesday with the Montana Supreme Court, seeking to overturn Constitutional Initiative 116, known as Marsy’s Law.

Almost two-thirds of Montana voters backed CI-116 in last November’s election. It added one section to the state constitution, listing specific rights for victims of any crime, such as the right to speak at hearings and the right to know when a suspect has been released. It also guaranteed those rights for victims’ family members.

But Alex Rate, ACLU of Montana’s legal director, says Marsy’s Law’s requirements could conflict with other rights guaranteed in the state constitution.

“What I don’t think voters realized when they voted for CI-116 last November, was that it would overlay a number of very well considered and reasoned and thought-out provisions in our Declaration of Rights of the Montana Constitution,” he said.

Rate argues CI-116 effectively amends at least eight sections in the constitution. He says that violates a requirement that voters consider each proposed constitutional amendment separately.

The ACLU’s petition calls on the state Supreme Court to declare CI-116 void and stop it from going into effect. The petitioners have asked the court to take up their case quickly, since the amendment is scheduled to take effect

Chuck Denowh, who led the Montana campaign in favor of Marsy’s Law, said there’s no validity to the petitioners’ claims.

“I think ultimately the ACLU’s motivation here is that they just don’t agree that crime victims should have equal rights to criminals,” said Denowh.

Rate said the ACLU of Montana is supportive of rights for crime victims, but that protections for them already exist, both in the state constitution and in state statutes.

While the challenge to CI-116 focuses on the structure of the amendment, it also touches on its effects.

Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher joined the ACLU’s petition. In a statement, he said CI-116 would force him to choose between maintaining constitutional protections for all Montanans and meeting the specific requirements of Marsy’s Law. He also said those additional requirements could also cost Lewis and Clark County around $100,000.

The Supreme Court has not yet taken any action on the petition.

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