Wrigley's tough-on-crime bill still alive after compromise at North Dakota Capitol

Judges can deviate from the minimums if they write a reason.

North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley speaks about crime rates at a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate has shown overwhelming support for mandatory minimum sentences when it comes to gun-related crimes, but it comes with a compromise.

In a 41-6 vote, state senators approved Senate Bill 2107 on Monday, Feb. 20, advancing it to the House.

Citing rising crime and concerns from law enforcement that repeat offenders were released from jail and prison too soon, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley pushed the bill that his office crafted as deterrence to violent crime.

The proposed legislation would implement minimum sentences for violent and drug crimes if the offender has a gun. Having a gun would get a defendant at least three years in prison, while firing one could land a minimum sentence of seven years.

There would also be a minimum jail sentence of 14 days for fleeing police, as well as 30 days for simple assault and preventing arrest.


The original bill allowed judges to deviate from those jail sentences if they recorded the reason for doing in court records.

In a compromise, Wrigley proposed adding language to the bill that allows judges to have the same ability to deviate from the mandatory minimums in cases of gun-related crimes. In those cases judge would also need to give a written reason for a downward departure.

"Presumptive mandatory conservative sentences will send a clear message to our courts," said Sen. Bob Paulson, R-Minot. "We presume there will be additional consequences for violent and dangerous conduct."

Sen. Judy Estenson, R-Warwick, voted against the bill, saying she was not convinced presumptive minimums were much different than mandatory.

"Though I support our blue, and I understand all the problems that have been addressed, I'm not sure that this bill will solve those our issues," she said.

Opponents have criticized the bill, claiming it would clog courts and increase defense attorney costs since more defendants would want to go to trial to avoid the minimum sentences. The additional inmates may have to be sent to jails or out-of-state facilities since North Dakota prisons are near capacity, according to a fiscal note prepared by the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The note estimated the legislation would cost $28.2 million over the next five years. By year five, the prison system would need 267 additional beds, the fiscal note said.

Sen. Ryan Braunberger, a Democrat from Fargo who initially voted for the bill in committee, said there are other things the state could do to keep people out of prison, including community policing and preventing crime.


"This is just putting more people in prison," Braunberger said in announcing he would vote against it.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said there is no data that prove mandatory minimums reduce crime. People who commit crimes aren't thinking about whether carrying a gun will get them more prison time.

"The mandatory sentences really don't affect outcome behavior," he said.

Repeat violent offenders get back on the street too quickly, Sen. Janna Myrdal, R-Edinburg, said. She understood the additional costs, but she said she was voting for the people that need to be protected from violent offender.

"The science tells me that when they're locked up, they can't be doing what they are doing. It's that simple," Myrdal said.

Sen. Jeffrey Magrum, R-Hazelton, said he was concerned the bill would take away gun rights from those convicted of misdemeanors. The bill clearly defines that a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction is what would prohibit people from possessing guns, Myrdal said.

The bill adds other people who can't own firearms, including those dishonorably discharged from military service.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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