Rest of the Story

Well, the ND State Legislature just went home and, how did that work out? As predicted, sentencing of criminals to prison was gutted. Everything from reducing the grading of theft offenses to shortening the jail term for a class A misdemeanor. The obvious thrust to make county jails the first line of incarceration, ergo, skyrocketing costs to local taxpayers instead of the “state’s” budget.

In addition, presumptive probation. Any offender (violent or otherwise) who finally gets sentenced to a class C felony (or less) MUST be placed on probation. Exceptions exist for domestic violence, pedophiles, offenses committed with a weapon or, if a judge finds “aggravating” factors. The factors? Prior convictions, age/vulnerability of the victim, violating someone’s trust, public officials, threats or coercion. The same things that judges already use in determining prison sentences but, now, probation includes treatment programs which count as “incarceration” too.

Capitulation on “Andrew’s Law” resulted in Dunn County’s policy on written confidential informant agreements being imposed on the entire state. That was just good ‘ol common sense. More troubling and confusing are the new requirements that cops now have to have POST “training” every 3 years on the subject and, the consequences for violating these new “rules” seem more like state interference than good policy.

Common sense did apply for juveniles under the age of 15 and campus police being barred from using C/I’s. No competent law enforcement officer should have been doing that anyway and, what the heck, there aren’t any drugs on campus, right? The use of juveniles is limited too and, there is now a new grounds for appeal “substantial compliance” by a snitch which is not defined.

Drug offenses were hit hardest with ALL possession cases (regardless of the type of drug or whether it occurs at school) are now misdemeanor offenses with a mandatory probation; and, felony manufacture/sales offenses are severely reduced too. Enhanced drug SALE punishment  must actually occur on school grounds (no longer within 1,000’), between 6 AM-10 PM, or at a sponsored event. All mandatory drug incarceration (for the most serious offenses) were cut in half too. You can also now possess up to 1 ounce of crack cocaine without enhancement.

Wearing a mask during the commission of a crime is a class A misdemeanor. DHS cannot deny public assistance to anyone who has been convicted of a felony drug possession offense. There is no change in how DHS is funded until the next biennium. Another “study” was ordered for a state takeover.

DUI offenses no longer include refusing to take a roadside PBT and, no longer presumed, implied consent for dead or unconscious offenders. Marsy’s Law was not really addressed by the Legislature but, the ND Supreme Court amended several procedural rules to deal with the topic. Dunn County was already performing those functions. The most important changes were restitution to victims and the unsealing of Juvenile Court records.

Traffic fines were increased and the new crime of distracted driving replaced the previous use of a wireless communication device. Now, a driver in a moving vehicle may not “engage in an activity that requires the use of the operator’s sight unless that activity involves operating or using the whole motor vehicle or a built-in accessory.”

Weapons offenses no longer include carrying (concealed or open) a loaded firearm in/outside a vehicle. The Breakfast Posse’s keen interest in this subject requires another column. Suffice it to say that unless you are precluded (by federal or state law) from possessing a firearm, you can now carry it almost anywhere except a public gathering, liquor establishment or government building. WHEW!

Pat Merriman is the Dunn County State Attorney. He is a photographer and also officiates high school and college athletics events in the area.


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