By Jennifer Cook, Policy Director, ACLU of North Dakota

As you are likely aware, the ACLU of North Dakota works on a number of issues, and we follow bills pertaining to our priority issues throughout legislative session. We’ve blogged on our lobbying efforts pertaining to First Amendment legislation. Today, we’re talking about the bills pertaining to criminal justice and privacy and technology that we saw in the 2017 North Dakota State Legislative Session.

Confidential Informant Reform – HB 1221 (Passed)

  • We worked through the interim and during session to help secure passage of Representative Rick Becker’s confidential reform bill or “Andrew’s Law.”  The bill as originally written required police only use a person as a confidential informant (CI) if the potential informant had consulted with an attorney and police assessed the risk to the safety of the potential informant and certain other factors.  The original version of the bill prohibited the use of juveniles under 15 as informants and required police to collect and publicly report data on their use of informants.  CI use by police is largely unregulated, shrouded in secrecy, and often circumvents an informant’s rights to due process and representation by an attorney.  CI work is dangerous and informants receive little to no training despite doing some of the most dangerous undercover work.  Despite passing the House with little change, the Senate amended the bill drastically in committee.  Eventually a compromise bill was drafted and important aspects of the original bill like the right to an attorney, prohibition on the use of juveniles, and training and evaluation requirements for police to use informants made it into the final version of the bill. 

Juvenile Life without Parole – HB 1195 (Passed)

  • This bill was introduced by prime sponsor Rep. Larry Klemin.  The bill sought to end criminal sentencing of juveniles to life without parole.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2012 that juveniles convicted of murder cannot be subject to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The court’s rulings in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs built on a decision two years prior that juveniles could not be sentenced under any circumstances to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for non-homicide offenses. Even when a juvenile was convicted of murder, the court said, a judge must be allowed to take a juvenile’s age into account (along with other relevant circumstances) in deciding the appropriate punishment.  We worked closely with the primary advocacy group supporting the bill, The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, to assist with the passage of this bill.  The bill as passed requires ND judges upon a motion from an incarcerated person convicted as an adult but sentenced as a juvenile to review the incarcerated person’s sentence and consider a number of factors before granting the person incarcerated as a juvenile a lower sentence than life without the opportunity for parole. 

Prohibition on Weaponized Drones – HB 1167 (Failed to Pass)

  • This bill was introduced by prime sponsor Rep. Rick Becker.  It’s a follow-up bill to the drone bill passed during 2015’s session which restricted police use of drones without warrants.  The bill passed in 2015’s session prohibited police from weaponizing drones with lethal weapons, but did not include language that prohibited less lethal weapons.  HB 1167 sought to close this loophole.  Unfortunately, despite no objection by law enforcement in the House committee hearing to the limitation on the use of less lethals and an acknowledgement by several police agencies that they do not intend to use less lethals to weaponize drones, the bill failed to pass in the House.  Lawmakers who voted against the bill argued because police do not intend to use less lethal weapons on drones the bill was unnecessary, while others did not want to limit police use of drones.  

Our third and final legislative update will focus on our work protecting voting rights, the LGBT community, and more.  Stay tuned for more 2017 legislative updates!