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Judge grants Measure 11 convict a rare early release April 20, 2012

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

A blustery Sunday afternoon last November found Circuit Judge William Cramer Jr. catching up on files in the closed Harney County Courthouse.

Cramer came to a one-page document, extraordinary for what it would do. The order, awaiting only Cramer’s approval, would conditionally release a convict years shy of finishing his mandated sentence.

Cramer signed it.

With that, he freed Charles L. Clifford and landed in a renewed debate over Measure 11, Oregon’s tough crime initiative. The law, passed by voters in 1994, is under new scrutiny as the state prepares to reconsider who should punish criminals: judges or voters.

Cramer presided over the 2009 trial that convicted Clifford, now 36, of badly injuring a man in a late-night brawl. The judge sent Clifford to prison for the mandatory 70 months — nearly six years — but not before declaring that the sentence was too harsh. The order gave Cramer a chance to release Clifford after he had served the time the judge had in mind at the outset.

Such releases are exceedingly rare. Attorneys involved in Clifford’s case could think of only a couple of others in recent years, even with more than 6,000 Oregon inmates serving sentences under Measure 11. Clifford’s release is tied to an appeal of his conviction — and he’ll return to prison if he loses.

Yet as Gov. John Kitzhaber prepares to assign a new panel to take up sentencing reform, Cramer and the state’s other 172 circuit judges could get more discretion in future cases.

Kitzhaber is seeking an overhaul of the criminal justice system, including sentencing, to rein in galloping costs. The state spends an average of $30,000 a year to house, feed and care for an inmate — part of a corrections system that burns through $1 billion in every two-year budget and is projected to cost $600 million more over the next decade if nothing is done.

Last year, a commission appointed by Kitzhaber recommended giving judges more power over sentences as part of the answer.

But tinkering with Measure 11 is tricky. Voters overwhelmingly approved it. And prosecutors, a potent political power, say the measure has contributed to a drop in crime across Oregon. They argue that sentences have been reasonable and that only the worst felons face the measure’s brute force.

Defense attorneys vehemently disagree. They say too many defendants are getting prison terms harsher than necessary to protect the public and reform felons.

For Cramer, who rejected big city legal work to return to his roots in eastern Oregon, the issue is what is just.




1. VickyG - May 8, 2012

Please keep at it,Governor Kitzhaber!

2. sharon - May 14, 2012

We need more judges like Crammer..

3. tracey, aug 9 2012 - August 10, 2012

measure 11 is wrong wrong wrong–it is crazy to sentence someone a mandatory sentence without giving our judges the ability to do what they are elected to do–make a judgement after hearing and assessing all the evidence and circumstances. After all, most who have to rely on a public defender get very little help in their defense because the pd hasnt time or resources to prepare and present a case properly so they advise their clients to take a plea bargain as a trial by jury would require a lot of evidence and information to be gathered for a jury panel to be able to give an unbiased verdict. At least a judge can better decide with the limited information a public defender provides….