Fitial Vetoes Bill To Toughen CNMI Sex Crime Laws

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Concerns voiced over ramifications for criminal code

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 4, 2012) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial vetoed on Friday a bill seeking to strengthen laws on sex crimes and domestic violence, citing "some very serious concerns" that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) raised including the removal of vital definitions that would hinder prosecution.

Rep. Edmund Villagomez's (Cov-Saipan) House Bill 17-193, House Draft 1 specifically seeks to establish minimum mandatory sentences for sexual assault and sexual abuse of a minor, increase the time-served component necessary for parole eligibility, and amend existing definitions to clarify provisions relating to sex crimes and domestic violence. Villagomez is currently off-island.

Fitial said he had to disapprove the bill because the OAG raised some very serious concerns about it.

"In sum, the bill unfavorably affects the entire criminal code by removing vital definitions; the new definition would hinder prosecution; the legislative intent is based on a misstatement of the law; and, policy-wise, CNMI prosecutors believe it may have the opposite effect of resulting in fewer convictions," Fitial said in his veto message to Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) and House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan).

The governor attached the OAG memorandum which provides in detail the concerns with the bill in case members decide to address these concerns and resubmit a revised bill for consideration.

Deputy attorney general Viola Alepuyo, in her Nov. 16 memo to the governor, cited five major concerns about the bill.

She said HB 17-193, HD1 would have far-reaching effect of repealing the entire definitions section of the criminal code. She said many of these definitions are vital to the prosecution of other crimes, such as the definition of "serious bodily injured."

"Repealing this section cripples the prosecution of other crimes," Alepuyo said.

The deputy AG said the revised definition of "sexual contact" creates an additional element that would not only increase a prosecutor's burden in proving a crime; the element is nearly impossible to prove.

Alepuyo also said the proposed definition of "sexual contact" is deficient in that it potentially decriminalizes a previously criminal act and criminalizes a relatively benign act.

Her fourth major concern on the bill is that the statement of legislative intent is based on a misstatement of the law.

She also said this measure may have unintended adverse policy effects on the enforceability of these crimes.

"This bill should not be signed because its effects would be almost opposed to the stated intent. It would affect the enforceability of many crimes and could result in less punishment of sex offenders. The Office's advice is not to sign the current bill, but to encourage the Legislature to redraft the bill so that its effect will match its intent," Alepuyo told the governor.

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