Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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Defendant Lamar Stanton was charged with three counts of first-degree sexual abuse and two counts of first-degree sodomy. Because defendant was indigent, the trial court appointed counsel to represent him. Over the course of the trial court proceedings, defendant was represented by several different court-appointed lawyers. Defendant expressed frustration with his last-appointed counsel, Lee-Mandlin, and asked her to move to withdraw. Lee-Mandlin filed two motions to withdraw but told the trial court that she was prepared to represent defendant. The court denied the motions, and, after defendant was evaluated at the state hospital and the trial court determined that he was able to aid and assist in his defense, and the case proceeded to a bench trial. The trial court entered a judgment of conviction and sentence, and defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred by proceeding as if defendant had waived his right to court-appointed counsel. The Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. The Oregon Supreme Court found three motions had been presented with respect to defendant’s representation, and that the trial court should have addressed the three motions separately because they presented different legal questions. Because the trial court did not expressly address these questions, the Supreme Court surmised the trial court could not have concluded defendant expressly waived his right to court-appointed counsel. Consequently, in the context of the multiple pending motions, the trial court’s question to defendant about whether he wanted Lee-Mandlin to withdraw was too ambiguous for defendant’s answer to constitute an intentional relinquishment of his right to court-appointed counsel. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Stanton" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jonathan Rusen challenged the trial court’s imposition of consecutive terms of incarceration upon revoking defendant’s probation. Defendant was serving the sentence of probation pursuant to a plea agreement and had stipulated that, if the court revoked his probation, the court could impose consecutive terms of incarceration as sanctions. Defendant had reserved the right, however, to argue that any probation revocation sanctions should be run concurrently. The Court of Appeals concluded that defendant’s challenge to the revocation sanction was reviewable and, on the merits, that the trial court lacked authority in this case to impose consecutive terms of incarceration following revocation of defendant’s probation. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the legislature did not intend ORS 138.105(9) to bar review of challenges to “part of a sentence” when the parties reserved the right to make competing arguments regarding what the court should decide with respect to that part of the sentence. Accordingly, defendant’s challenge to the court’s decision to impose consecutive terms of incarceration was reviewable. On the merits, the Supreme Court concluded that ORS 137.123(2) applied to initial sentencing and, therefore, was compatible with OAR 213-012-0040(2)(a), which applied when a court revokes probation. View "Oregon v. Rusen" on Justia Law

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This case involved the State’s direct and interlocutory appeal of an omnibus pretrial order granting numerous defense motions to suppress evidence that the State obtained through wiretaps and search warrants. Defendant Langston Harris was charged with first-degree and second-degree murder, first-degree robbery, promoting prostitution, and other crimes. The murder charges arose from the death of RBH, who was shot outside of his apartment building in the early morning hours of September 20, 2017. The trial court ruled: (1) the wiretaps violated federal law because the applications did not indicate that the elected district attorney personally was even aware of the applications, and (2) roughly two dozen search warrants for cell phone data and social media accounts were invalid for multiple reasons, including that the warrants were overbroad and that, after excising from later warrant applications all information derived from the invalid earlier warrant(s), the State lacked probable cause to support the later warrants. After careful consideration of the trial court record, the Oregon Supreme Court concurred and affirmed those rulings of the trial court. View "Oregon v. Harris" on Justia Law

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During a single criminal episode, defendant Scott Kyger cut the necks of two people with a razor blade. For that conduct, the State charged him with, and he was convicted on two counts of attempted aggravated murder under ORS 163.095 (2015) and ORS 161.405 (2015). The question presented for the Oregon Supreme Court in this this case was whether the State charged a viable theory of attempted aggravated murder. Defendant contended that the existence of “more than one murder victim” was a circumstance that had to exist for a person to be guilty of aggravated murder; that it did not exist here because neither victim died; and that defendant’s intentional conduct did not amount to attempted aggravated murder because a person cannot “attempt” to commit a circumstance element of an offense. In defendant’s view, the allegations supported, at most, charges for attempted murder. The trial court and the Court of Appeals disagreed with defendant. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Oregon v. Kyger" on Justia Law

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Defendant Billy Lee Oatney, Jr. was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death (Oatney I). During its initial investigation of the murder, the state gave defendant contractual use and derivative use immunity in exchange for providing information about the circumstances of the murder. The state then shared part of defendant’s immunized statement with an associate, Johnston. As a result, Johnston provided the state with additional information about the murder, pleaded guilty to the crime, and testified against defendant in his first trial for aggravated murder. Following defendant’s conviction and sentencing, and the Oregon Supreme Court’s affirmance of the judgment of conviction and sentence in Oatney I, he obtained post-conviction relief on the ground that his trial counsel had been inadequate for failing to move to suppress Johnston’s statements and testimony, which had derived from defendant’s immunized statement. The post-conviction court remanded the case for further proceedings. The State initiated retrial proceedings against defendant, and appealed a pretrial order that precluded it from calling “Johnston to present testimony that violates the immunity agreement of Defendant,” even if, “[w]ithin the limits of the law and the evidence presented,” defense counsel represents in opening statements that the evidence will show that Johnston or someone other than defendant committed the crime or argued in closing that the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant committed the crime. Defendant raised a cross- assignment of error, arguing that, if the Supreme Court reversed on direct appeal, it should also conclude that the trial court erred in ruling that defendant would open the door to Johnston’s testimony by presenting evidence of Johnston’s judgment of conviction. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in precluding the State from calling Johnston under the circumstances described in the order and, for that reason, did not address defendant’s cross- assignment. View "Oregon v. Oatney" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Karlyn Eklof was convicted of aggravated intentional murder in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In this, her second case seeking post-conviction relief, petitioner moved to amend her complaint a third time to introduce new claims that the State unlawfully withheld exculpatory evidence in petitioner’s criminal trial. The State presented evidence from the records of earlier cases involving the same murder, which purported to show that petitioner or her counsel knew about the allegedly withheld evidence and the possibility that it was withheld, and, therefore, reasonably could have raised her claims. After considering that evidence, the post-conviction court denied petitioner leave to amend her petition. Petitioner sought review by the Oregon Supreme Court, asking whether the merit of the proposed amendments, including whether they were procedurally barred, was relevant to determining whether to grant leave to amend under ORCP 23 A, and whether the post-conviction court erred in considering the State’s evidence. Because the State and post-conviction court identified no meaningful prejudice to the State resulting from petitioner’s proposed amendments, the post-conviction court abused its discretion in denying leave to amend. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and the judgment of the circuit court, and remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Eklof v. Persson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Michael Jackson was charged with and convicted of offenses that occurred during an encounter with police officers in an enclosed ATM vestibule. A surveillance video recorded the encounter and was admitted at trial as Exhibit 15. After the trial court entered the judgment of conviction, Exhibit 15 was lost or destroyed, and, in conjunction with his appeal to the Court of Appeals, defendant filed a motion seeking reversal and remand under ORS 19.420(3). The Appellate Commissioner denied defendant’s motion, concluding, as a matter of law, that the lost exhibit was not “necessary to the prosecution of the appeal.” The Court of Appeals denied reconsideration, and, because the Oregon Supreme Court allowed defendant’s petition for review, held defendant’s appeal in abeyance. The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred in summarily denying defendant’s motion before more fully analyzing the issues defendant raised on appeal and considering whether Exhibit 15 was necessary to resolve those issues. The case was remanded to the Court of Appeals to undertake that analysis. View "Oregon v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Dennis Davidson was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole under for his convictions for public indecency, a Class C felony, because he had been sentenced for felony sex crimes at least twice before sentencing for the current crimes. The Oregon Supreme Court held that that sentence was unconstitutionally disproportionate as applied to defendant’s offenses, and it remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing. The trial court concluded on remand that it was permitted to sentence defendant to any term of imprisonment short of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, under ORS 137.719, in the circumstances, the trial court was required to impose a departure sentence in conformity with Oregon’s felony sentencing guidelines. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Oregon v. Davidson" on Justia Law

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In this case, defendant Jason Van Brumwell was convicted by jury on two counts of aggravated murder, for which he was sentenced to death. Defendant later brought a post-conviction relief action, and the post-conviction court ordered a new sentencing proceeding. While the post-conviction case was on appeal, the Oregon legislature enacted SB 1013, which, among other things, revised Oregon’s murder statutes to narrow the crimes that could be punished by death. Relevant here, under SB 1013, the form of murder alleged in Count 1 of defendant’s indictment, murder after having been convicted of aggravated murder previously, was classified as “murder in the first degree,” and the form of murder alleged in Count 2, murder committed while confined in a correctional facility, was classified as “murder in the first degree.” But a murder committed with both of those aggravating circumstances was now classified as “aggravated murder.” The parties agree that, because the post-conviction court ordered a new penalty-phase hearing that had yet to occur, SB 1013’s changes to the definitions of the different forms of murder applied to this case. But the parties disagreed about the effect of those changes. This case came before the Oregon Supreme Court on the State's motion to determine whether it could appeal the trial court order that granted defendant’s motion to preclude imposition of the death penalty and, if so, whether the appeal had to be brought to the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court held that the State could appeal the order, and that the appeal had to be brought to the Supreme Court. View "Oregon v. Brumwell" on Justia Law

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At issue in this post-conviction case was petitioner Steve Franke’s attempt to prove that his criminal trial counsel provided constitutionally inadequate and ineffective assistance by failing to object that an expert diagnosis of child sexual abuse was inadmissible in the absence of corroborating physical evidence. Although the objection would have been contrary to controlling Court of Appeals precedent at the time of petitioner’s 2001 criminal trial, the Oregon Supreme Court later held that the rules of evidence required exclusion of a diagnosis of sexual abuse if it was not based on physical evidence, effectively overruling the Court of Appeals precedent. To survive summary judgment, petitioner offered evidence that some criminal defense attorneys in 2001 viewed the Court of Appeals precedent as vulnerable, were raising the kind of challenge to sexual abuse diagnoses that ultimately succeeded, and were recommending that practice to other criminal defense attorneys. Petitioner contended the evidence would have allowed him to establish that the exercise of reasonable skill and judgment obligated his attorney to raise a similar objection, or at least that his attorney’s failure to raise the argument was the product of a failure to adequately prepare and familiarize himself with the state of the law. Both the post-conviction court and the Court of Appeals held that petitioner’s claim failed as a matter of law. The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the argument that ultimately succeeded in Southard was not so obviously correct in 2001 that the exercise of reasonable skill obligated attorneys to raise the argument, and petitioner’s evidence did not permit a different conclusion. But the Supreme Court disagreed that petitioner’s claim could be resolved on summary judgment; the evidence created genuine issues of material fact that, if resolved in petitioner’s favor, could establish the failure by petitioner’s attorney to raise a Southard-type challenge to the sexual abuse diagnosis was the product of an unreasonable failure to investigate and familiarize himself with the state of the law to the extent appropriate to the nature and complexity of the case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts' judgments and remanded for further proceedings. View "Jackson v. Franke" on Justia Law