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Tragic Murder of College Student Prompts Enforced North Dakota Background Check Legislation

North Dakota legislators have proposed enhanced background check legislation for sensitive jobs in the state following the September murder of a female college student by a former jailer with a criminal past who did not have to submit a background check.

Moe Gibbs is accused of murdering college student Mindy Morgenstern in Valley City, North Dakota.

The 22-year-old Morgenstern was found dead with her throat slashed in her off-campus apartment near Valley City State University on September 13, 2006. Gibbs, a former jailer at nearby Barnes County Correctional Facility, was charged with the crime.

Gibbs has also been charged with sexually abusing female inmates while they slept at Barnes County jail.

Gibbs has pleaded not guilty to that charge during his initial criminal defense.

Corrections Officers Exempt From Background Checks Under Current Law

Police learned at the time of the arrest that Gibbs actually had a criminal history; however, Gibbs never had to submit a background check when applying to be a Barnes County jailer.

Current North Dakota law does not require background checks for people, like Gibbs, who apply to be corrections officers!

While Gibbs’ criminal history would not have been evident in a background check since he had changed his name in the past, the fact that he didn’t even have to submit one was a frightening scenario only brought to public attention after the tragic murder of Morgenstern.

Morgenstern’s death quickly prompted North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and various legislators sponsoring the bill to address the deficiencies in the state’s criminal background statutes.

As part of the proposed aggressive and comprehensive legislation, North Dakota lawmakers want anyone with access to sensitive information or in a caregiver role to be required to submit background checks.

Stenehjem said that background checks would now be required for corrections officers, dentists, nurses, social workers and even college students working in sensitive positions. People who already hold these types of jobs would not be required to submit to background checks.

And to avoid something like the Gibbs situation from ever happening again in the state, people would have to submit fingerprints when applying for those specific types of jobs. These fingerprints could then be cross referenced with national databases to determine if an applicant had a criminal history which may not be evident in a background check.

Background Checks Could Reach 14,000/year

Stenehjem believes that if the proposed legislation is passed, it will double the number of background checks conducted in the state each year.

The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation annually performs around 7,000 criminal background checks.

Stenehjem said that one employee is needed for every 2,000 criminal background checks and indicated that the BCI will have to add workers to the three-person currently handling these duties. Stenehjem expects the funding for these positions to come from the $52 background check fee that each job applicant must pay.

This bill is expected to easily pass in North Dakota.

While the death of Mindy Morgenstern was certainly tragic, it has revealed some serious problems with the state’s current laws surrounding background checks and prompted stronger legislation which may prevent people like Gibbs from getting a nearby job and being a danger to the surrounding community.