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Editorial: Property crime measures criminally bad October 14, 2008

Posted by missmybrother in : Current News , trackback

Here’s an editorial from the Corvallis Gazette Times about the two mandatory minimum sentences ballot measures. It sums up what many people think, and is encouraging a no vote on both. This brings up the agonizing dilemma…those who want fair and appropriate justice and oppose measure 11 also oppose both current ballot measures. So, the obvious response is to vote no on both. But, as they are worded, the measure that receives the most votes will pass. Since measure 57 is the lesser of the two evils, the Partnership for Safety and Justice (and others) urge us to vote yes on measure 57. This yes vote on measure 57 will increase the chances of Measure 61 failing. It all seems so convoluted; however, welcome to reality.

We certainly do not need another set of laws that further handcuff our judges. Measure 61 is cost-prohibitive and just adds to the horror of mandatory minimums.

It’s amazing how many people in Oregon are so naive to think that everyone convicted of crimes involving mandatory minimum sentences are actually guilty. Common sense tells us that is true; however, the facts are far different. Imagine waking up one day from a knock on your door. A police officer is there to take you down to headquarters for questioning. You learn that a minor has made up a story and accused you of inappropriate behavior. Your life as you knew it is now over. You will face a DA that threatens jail time for 75 months and having to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life. Your choice–take a plea bargain of lesser time in prison (and the requirement of sex offender registration), or gambling and go to trial and attempt to bring forth the truth of your innocence. Either way, the overwhelming odds are that you lose. Being gutsy, believing in the justice system, and knowing you did nothing wrong, you press for a trial. Slowly, you come to understand that the prosecution does NOT require any evidence at all to obtain a conviction. No evidence, either physical or eye-witness, is needed to determine guilt? You wonder if all of a sudden the United States has just become a third-world country with utter lawlessness and rampant judicial corruption. As the judge sentences you to 75 months in prison, the requirement to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life, and then 10 years probation after that, the ugly truth that all it takes is an accusation to convict someone starts the soul-eating process to begin, draining your humanity as well as your sanity for the rest of your days.

Unfortunately, this is not an Alfred Hitchcock film. This is the current reality facing thousands of Oregonians. I know you think this just can’t happen. Many just like you have thought the same thing. BUT IT HAS HAPPENED COUNTLESS TIMES AND WILL CONTINUE INDEFINITELY UNTIL ENOUGH PEOPLE SEE WHAT IS HAPPENING, BAND TOGETHER, AND MAKE VITAL CHANGES. Don’t wait until you are the next casualty.

First, let us offer a general word of advice on ballot measures: When in doubt, “no” almost always is an honorable vote.

Oregon history is filled with well-meaning ballot measures that ended up being textbook examples of the law of unintended consequences. And many of the measures that have been put in front of voters truthfully belong in front of the Legislature, where these items at least get a shot at being debated and decided on their merits and supporters and opponents can try to build coherent cases.

We still are pondering some of the 12 state measures facing us this election, but it’s a safe bet that we’ll be leaning heavily on the “no” side of the ballot. We recommend you do the same.

Today, let us turn our attention to the two competing property-crime measures on the ballot, Measure 57 and Measure 61. We recommend “no” votes on both measures.

Both measures aim to increase sentences for property crimes. Measure 57 is the one that was crafted by legislators after it became clear that Measure 61 was going to make the ballot. (If both pass, the measure with the most votes becomes law.)

Measure 57 is somewhat easier on the taxpayer than Measure 61, which is estimated to add 4,100 to 6,300 inmates to Oregon’s prison population of about 13,600. Measure 61 is estimated to cost $8 million to $10 million next year; the price tag could increase to as much as $274 million per year after its fourth year. We’ll be building plenty of new prison cells.

By contrast, Measure 61 is estimated to cost $9 million or so its first year, and then increase to about $143 million per year after its fourth year.

Measure 61 doesn’t include a penny for treatment of the drug addictions that fuel so much property crime; that’s another advantage of Measure 57.

Regardless, this is all money that comes out of the general fund. Every cent that goes to pay for one of these measures is a cent that doesn’t go to education or health care or economic development — unless you’re in the business of building prisons.

We cannot afford either of these measures. And, considering recent FBI reports that said property crime in Oregon has declined 20 percent over the last two years, the need for either is questionable.

We have another, more philosophical, argument against both of these measures: We’ve already handcuffed our judges with previous sentencing measures, most notably Measure 11, which mandated minimum sentences for certain violent crimes. We pay judges to decide sentences on the merits of each case, to protect society, to rehabilitate when possible, to punish when appropriate — and to show mercy when appropriate. If a judge consistently imposes sentences that are out of line with community expectations, the proper response is to toss the rascal out during the next election. We fail to see what is to be gained by denying judges the latitude they sometimes need to make sure justice is served in each specific case.

If you must vote for one of the property-crime measures, Measure 57 is the one to back.

But during our conversations with legislators about both measures, the most enthusiastic case we got for Measure 57 essentially boiled down to this: It isn’t as bad as Measure 61.

We agree with that assessment. But that’s not a good enough case for Measure 57. Vote “no” on both measures.

To read the article and the subsequent comments, please CLICK HERE



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