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Lawmakers approve bill implementing Marsy’s Law

*This article has been updated to reflect a response from the Conference of District Attorneys.

Lawmakers approved legislation Wednesday implementing a constitutional amendment that expands victims’ rights in North Carolina.

The Senate approved Senate Bill 682 unanimously and the House passed the measure 113-4, with no votes from Representatives Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe), Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), Marcia Morey (D-Durham) and Verla Insko (D-Orange). The amendment, better known as Marsy’s Law, goes into effect Saturday after a majority of North Carolinians voted for it last fall.

The bill requires that victims, upon request, be granted certain rights, including notice of court proceedings for the accused, to be present and heard at those proceedings, to receive restitution “in a reasonably timely manner, when ordered by the court” and to reasonably confer with the district attorney’s office.

The measure “does not create a claim for damages against the state, any county or municipality, or any state or county agencies, instrumentalities, officers, or employees.”

A crime victim, according to SB 682, may assert their rights under the constitutional amendment by making a motion to the court of jurisdiction, but a proceeding will not be subject to “undue delay” for enforcement of those rights. If any motions allege a district attorney or law enforcement agency failed to comply with a victims’ rights, the individual must first file a written complaint with that office and give time for a resolution.

Marsy’s Law for North Carolina released a statement Thursday urging Gov. Roy Cooper to sign SB 682. Cooper’s office did not return an email seeking comment about whether he planned to pass or veto the measure.

“I’m relieved and thankful that the General Assembly has passed the bill overwhelmingly,” said Kit Gruelle, a North Carolina victim advocate. “They have affirmed the voices, experiences and rights of crime victims across our state and it’s what we all have been hoping for.”

The amendment will go into effect with or without Cooper signing on to the implementing legislation.

Peg Dorer, Director of the Conference of District Attorneys, said Thursday that district attorneys and their staff across the state have long ensured the rights of crime victims and will continue to do so under the new law.

“As has been our expressed concern from the beginning of this victims’ rights initiative, the new law will significantly increase the number of victims and the information they must receive,” she said in an email. “This will put a significant burden on already understaffed District Attorneys’ offices.”

The Conference supported the constitutional amendment upon assurances that resources and some limited automation would be provided to assist in new mandates. To date, these assurances have not been realized, Dorer said.

In preparation for the effective date, the Conference has been developing the required forms and materials to notify and provide victims their rights. The organization is tasked in the bill with developing and disseminating forms related to the amendment and with developing procedures to automate court date notifications.

Opponents of the amendment have said victims’ rights already were enshrined in the constitution and enhancing them should be done by statute, not by an experimental amendment. They’ve also pointed to other states that have experienced issues implementing versions of Marsy’s Law as cautionary tales.

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