Judge bars parole board from reconsidering sentences for young offenders under governor’s plan

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Last fall, Governor Kate Brown commuted the sentences of more than 70 Oregonians for crimes they committed as minors, granting them parole hearings to decide whether they are released later. early. On Tuesday, a Marion County judge ruled the parole board lacked that authority.

(Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

A Marion County Circuit Court judge on Tuesday ordered the state parole board not to hold hearings to consider the early release of dozens of Oregonians for crimes they committed in as minors.

The decision is a setback for a plan Governor Kate Brown announced in October as part of a broader effort to shift the state’s criminal justice system toward rehabilitating young people, instead of long and costly prison sentences.

The decision prevented one of the two groups of juvenile offenders from having their sentences commuted under criteria made public by Brown in October, ending six weeks of litigation over the commutation plan.

Brown then commuted the sentences of more than 70 people, including 18 convicted in Marion County and two in Polk County, who served at least 15 years of their sentence for a crime committed when they were under 18. years, including murder and rape.

The governor’s office said at the time that the Board of Parole and Post-Incarceration would hold hearings to decide whether to grant early release.

But the council, according to Justice David Leith’s order, does not have that authority.

The governor’s office said in October that Brown intended to use his clemency powers to consider individually for commutation those convicted of crimes committed as youths before the passage of SB 1008 in 2019, which allowed judges more discretion in sentencing minors found guilty of crimes. The legislation aimed to keep young offenders in the juvenile system, which emphasizes rehabilitation.

Leith on Tuesday ordered the parole board not to hold any parole hearings or to release any offender convicted of a crime committed as a minor before the bill was passed.

Liz Merah, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said Thursday the state is appealing the decision.

The judge’s decision came after Linn County District Attorney Douglas Marteeny, Lane County District Attorney Patricia Perlow and four victims sued Brown and other state officials, seeking the a judge’s order to suspend the “unlawful sentence reductions” that Brown intended to carry out, according to a petition. filed Jan. 18 in Marion County Circuit Court.

Leith rejected most claims in the lawsuit, including that commutations would require an application from both offender and victim, and that Brown illegally gave clemency powers to the state Department of Corrections and the Oregon Youth Authority in granting commutations based on the slates it requested. the agencies.

Regarding the judge’s decision that the parole board had no authority to hold hearings for the more than 70 people granted a pardon, Merah said, “Our office continues to review and assess our legal options, and the state has filed a notice of appeal”.

Those in custody must now continue to serve their original sentence, although Brown still has the power to personally choose who gets clemency.

“The governor is pleased that the court’s opinion letter asserted that his use of clemency powers was within his authority and upheld every commutation granted to date, affecting nearly 1,200 people,” Merah said in an e -mail. “The Governor continues to believe that executive clemency is an important tool that can be used to address systemic failures in our criminal justice system as we work to bring about lasting change, and she will continue to exercise her authority. leniency in, for example, cases of extraordinary transformation to give people the opportunity to become positive and contributing members of their communities.

In response to a request for comment on the ruling, Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson referenced a statement she filed Feb. 23 in the civil case. Clarkson District and Clackamas County Attorney John Wentworth filed statements supporting an order staying Brown’s planned sentence reductions, even though they were not a party to the lawsuit.

“When the governor acts outside of the clemency process and the law, the disruption to victims’ lives is significant and their faith in our criminal justice process is rightly shaken,” she wrote in the statement. . Most of these victims did not expect their attackers to be released sooner, in some cases years earlier than expected by the court. They tell me they are afraid and distrustful of a criminal justice system that has now failed them,” the statement read.

Clarkson said in the statement that she does not believe any injustice was done through the original sentences. “Quite the contrary,” she says. “Justice has been served in every conviction that my prosecutors, and the public safety system as a whole, have worked so hard to secure. I am in awe of the victims who bravely came forward to share their stories, navigate the criminal justice system, and speak the painful truth to hold their abusers accountable.

Merah said that since the judge ruled Brown has clemency power and upheld all of the commutations granted to date, the governor’s office will continue to process clemency applications from incarcerated individuals.

Brown’s original commutation plan covered two groups of Oregonians currently serving prison sentences for crimes committed as minors. In addition to those previously slated for parole hearings, Merah said in October that Brown is considering about 214 additional people for early release who have served at least half their sentences for crimes committed as minors. The list includes about 36 people convicted in Marion and Polk counties who were not on the parole hearing list.

“The court’s decision did not impact the governor’s ability to consider clemency applications for individuals in this group. In fact, the court reaffirmed its ability to do so,” Merah said.

If someone from the larger group unaffected by Leith’s decision submits a request, Merah said the governor’s office will review it individually to determine whether they have made “exemplary progress and whether there is considerable evidence of rehabilitation”, taking into account the contributions of the district attorney and all the victims.

The governor’s office expects about two-thirds of the group to request commutation and get a case-by-case review, she said.

“Governor Brown believes that granting clemency is an extraordinary act that is usually reserved for people who have made incredible changes and are dedicated to improving their communities,” she said, “which is why the vast majority of leniency applications are denied”.

STATEMENT :

Dozens of people convicted in Marion and Polk counties for crimes committed as minors could soon be released from prison

Contact journalist Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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