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Oregon Ruling Is For Justice October 7, 2009

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Here’s an editorial from the Albany Democrat Herald:

Nobody likes the courts making up their own laws, but that’s not what the Oregon Supreme Court did last month when it ruled in favor of prison sentences shorter than what Measure 11 required.

Instead the court faithfully applied the Oregon constitution, which requires that punishment fit the crime. And in two cases before it, one from Linn and the other from Washington County, a four-member majority led by Justice Thomas Balmer found that the stiff prison sentences provided by law were far beyond what any reasonable person would consider proportionate.

In the case from Washington County, a woman working for the Hillsboro Boys & Girls Club was in the game room along with a 13-year-old boy, another staff member and 30 to 50 other children. While the boy sat in a chair, she stood behind him and ran her hands through his hair while the back of his head was against her breasts.

In the Linn County case, the defendant had his hand on a rock on a riverbank while a 13-year-old girl leaned back while fishing and her backside touched his hand. This happened a couple more times, and when they got up he brushed dirt off the back of her shorts.

In both cases, the background included inappropriate contact and communication with the children by the defendants. Both were convicted of first-degree sexual abuse. The law, passed by the voters as Measure 11 in 1994, called for minimum prison terms of 75 months.

The problem here is not Measure 11 but the law on sex offenses. The conduct described by the court in these cases was clearly wrong, but it was far less severe than other kinds of offenses that the law classifies as lesser crimes punishable much less severely.

The trial judges in these two cases – in Linn it was Rick McCormick – saw what any reasonable person would see: Six years and three months in prison was grossly out of step with what had happened in each case. They remembered the constitution, and they also remembered that the main role of the courts is to administer justice. So they imposed lesser terms, far more just than what the strict application of a clumsy statute demanded.

The trial judges did the right thing, and it’s good that the Supreme Court backed them up.



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