The ACLU of Montana opposes CI-116 (“Marsy’s Law”) as unconstitutional and a massive impediment to the workings of the already overburdened criminal justice system in Montana.

CI-116 or “Marsy’s Law” looks good on its face. Victims of crime should absolutely be protected and consulted during criminal proceedings. A deeper look, though, at the on-the-ground impact of this wordy constitutional amendment reveals that it will negatively impact prosecutors, defense attorneys, defendants, and victims by overburdening the criminal justice system and clogging proceedings with unnecessary third-party involvement.

Victims of crime in Montana already have a multitude of statutory rights including the right to confidentiality, to be heard, attend proceedings, access information about their case, contribute information for sentencing of the perpetrator, consult with the prosecution, and many more. CI-116 unnecessarily adds these rights to our state constitution and adds additional rights that are more confusing and problematic than helpful. For example, victims would have a right to counsel separate from the county attorney’s office, which morphs the criminal process into an adversarial proceeding much like a civil trial – with two private parties battling it out instead of the state representing the interests of justice and public safety. The right to counsel is so poorly defined that one of two things will be true: only wealthy victims will be able to retain attorneys, or an entirely new state-sponsored legal unit will need to be formed to provide legal representation to victims. CI-116 either creates an entirely new, expensive program at the state level or inadequately protects poor victims of violent crime.

CI-116 also entitles the victim to be heard during any proceeding (not just sentencing), refuse to be deposed by the defense, and be consulted every time a procedural request – like a continuance – is sought, seriously impacting the constitutional right to a speedy trial. Perhaps most concerning, though, is the definition of victim in CI-116. Currently, Montana statute defines “victim” in the assault statute as “a person against whom the offender committed an assault.” CI-116 extends the definition of victim for all crimes to include spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, or anyone with “substantially similar” relationships to the victim. Not only will the victim have all the new rights listed above, but potentially every member of their family and any friends who are considered to be family will be entitled to the same rights, plus those that already exist in Montana statute.

Montana’s criminal justice system is already overburdened and under-resourced. Imagine the grinding halt our courts will come to if every victim, parent, sibling, and friend has the right to counsel, the right to participate and be heard in every proceeding, the right to access information about a case, the right to notice of all hearings, and the right to consult with the prosecution. Do victims of crime deserve swift prosecution and meaningful justice? Of course, but CI-116 is not the right vehicle. Change should be made through our statutes, not our constitution, and not at the cost of defendant’s rights and the ability of our prosecutors and defense attorneys to function in the criminal justice system without further burden.

The ACLU of Montana Supports I-182, Montana’s NEW Medical Marijuana Initiative, as a responsible alternative to the current, inaccessible medical marijuana system.

Medical marijuana should accessible to patients just like any other medication – it should not be taxed differently, prescribed differently, regulated differently, and patients should not be subject to greater hurdles than those who do not use it. It should not be taxed, there should be no fee to access it, and the formerly incarcerated should not be cut out of the system as providers or patients. Unfortunately, the federal government has not decriminalized marijuana, even for medical purposes, despite its proven benefits. While the ACLU would prefer a statewide system that goes further in bringing marijuana regulations into line with other medications, we recognize the improvements proposed in I-182 to be necessary and extremely beneficial to patients.

Over 1,000,000 patients in 23 states use medical marijuana to manage the symptoms of cancer, chronic pain, PTSD, epilepsy, and other debilitating illnesses. In 2004, Montanans voted for medical marijuana access by a margin of 2-1, passing I-184 and creating an accessible system for patients. Unfortunately, in 2011, the legislature passed Senate Bill 423, an anti-medical marijuana bill that seriously curtailed program access and the ability of providers and doctors to assist patients in obtaining this much needed medicine. I-182, while not perfect, is a vast improvement over the current, unworkable medical marijuana system in Montana. This responsible and accountable initiative will remove restrictions limiting providers to only 3 patients, which left 12,000 Montanans without access. I-182 will also provide access to those suffering from PTSD, remove arbitrary patient limits for physicians, and allow testing of medical marijuana and its derivatives produced in Montana.

I-182 is an important step in making marijuana accessible to Montanans who suffer from debilitating illnesses. The ACLU supports its passage and the continued fight to destigmatize marijuana use.