Changes to Marsy’s Law affects every crime victim

RAPID CITY, S.D. -

Some big changes to Marsy’s Law went into effect this month that affects every victim of a crime — big or small.

Marsy’s Law came to South Dakota in 2016. It changed the definition of a victim, gave them the ability to be involved in court cases, and defined their rights.

Once the law was implemented, a few problems arose.

“We have the possibility of people who are defined as victims, who are not on the side of the real victim,” said Pennington County State’s Attorney, Mark Vargo.

Under the original Marsy’s Law, family members of a victim could be identified as victims, which becomes troublesome in cases of crimes within a family.

Also, advocates were overloaded with having to contact victims to keep them involved in the process. And sometimes, there was no response back from the victim.

“It doesn’t sound like a big problem,” said Vargo, ”A phone call here, letter there but, when you add it up to the 1000’s of cases we do a year, the victim’s advocates who should be sitting there with the families and the victims of the most serious crimes were spending their time instead, hunting down people on relatively minor offenses.”

Law enforcement agencies hit a wall in some cases, being unable to share certain information with other agencies or victim’s advocates groups.

“If law enforcement can’t solve the case or can’t get involved or can’t get other agencies involved who specialize in helping victims, we’re not serving that end,” said Vargo.

Now, Marsy’s Law allows law enforcement to share information with other agencies to help them solve crimes faster.

The revised law also narrows the definition of a victim and says victim's have to "opt-in" to their rights, which shrinks the pool of people "to hunt down".

That means victims who want to know about the criminal system can get information sooner.

 “Bottom line is you can still become very involved and we can be there with you but we’ll have time to do that now because of the people on the petty thefts, the criminal trespasses, the low-level offenses,” said Vargo, “We’re not chasing our tail on those cases anymore.”

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