Oregon district attorneys pan proposed Measure 11 reform
Top prosecutors across Oregon took aim at four state legislative proposals in a new report suggesting the bills' effect on criminal sentencing would be dramatic — and dangerous — if passed.
The Oregon District Attorneys Association argues that Measure 11, the voter-approved law generally requiring mandatory minimum sentences and no time off for good behavior for a number of serious offenses, has strong public support and "addresses conduct, not color."
"I support responsible reforms," said Washington County DA Kevin Barton. However, "repealing Measure 11 will not bring more justice to victims, make Oregonians safer or sentencing more equitable."
While a person convicted for a sexual, violent or fatal crime under Measure 11 can spend anywhere from five to 25 years behind bars, the ODAA report shows if reforms were enacted most offenders could face only two or three year-long sentences, or even just probation.
Of course, those hypothetical shorter stints in jail assume every prisoner qualified for earned time reductions due to model behavior, and a sentence of probation would be allowable under Oregon law only if a judge found a substantial and compelling reason to deviate from punishment guidelines.
ODAA executive director Michael Wu said he couldn't speculate how judges would act if given more discretion under reform policies.
"There's not a lot a crime victim or survivor can get out of a sentencing hearing, besides the fact that they're being listened to and they can leave that courtroom with some certainty about what will happen," he said. "When you introduce earned time, you take away some of that certainty."
Since Measure 11 passed in 1994, Oregon violent crime levels dropped by half, and now occur at a rate not seen since the 1960s, when the state's population was much smaller, according to FBI data cited in the report. While non-whites remain over-represented in the prison population, that disparity has decreased since Measure 11 was passed.
The legislation at issue includes Senate Bill 191, introduced on behalf of advocacy group Time Does Not Fit the Crime; Sen. Floyd Prozanski's Senate Bill 401; House Bill 2002, whose chief sponsors include Reps. Janelle Bynum, Wlnsvey Campos, Khanh Pham and Ricki Ruiz, acting on behalf of a number of local nonprofits including the Latino Network and Central City Concern; and House Bill 2172, introduced on behalf of Gov. Kate Brown.
"The proposals as drafted would have devastating effects on victims and their families and our crime rates," said Marion County DA Paige Clarkson. "While (voters) have spoken before at the ballot box in favor of mandatory minimum sentences for violent felonies, our legislators need to hear it again."
Wu, who spent eight years as a former Clackamas County deputy district attorney and took the helm of the ODAA in October, said there's no hard feelings between the group and one of the state's most ardent proponents of Measure 11 reform, Multnomah County DA Mike Schmidt.
Schmidt, who remains an ODAA member, invited Seattle district attorney Dan Satterberg for a discussion of the King County criminal justice system in January, Wu confirmed.
"(Schmidt's) opinions and principles are treated seriously by the other members, always professionally and with courtesy," Wu said.
Do the time
The crime: Raping a teenager at knifepoint — Under Measure 11: 8.3 years — Proposed legislation: 2.8 years or probation
The crime: Intentionally suffocating a baby and causing permanent blindness — Under Measure 11: 7.5 years — Proposed legislation: 2.8 years or probation
The crime: Attempted Murder — Under Measure 11: 7.5 years — Proposed legislation: 2.8 years or probation
The crime: Filming an adult raping a child — Under Measure 11: 5.8 years — Proposed legislation: 7.2 months or probation
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