Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The parties in this case raised the issue of whether the natural dissipation of alcohol in a suspect’s body created such an emergency that police officers could enter a suspect’s home without a warrant in order to secure the suspect’s blood-alcohol evidence. Police officers entered the home of defendant Randall Ritz, without a warrant, to secure evidence of his blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) after having probable cause to believe that he had been driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII), a misdemeanor offense. The state argued that the warrantless entry was justified because the natural dissipation of alcohol in defendant’s body is a type of destruction of evidence that establishes an exigent circumstance. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion to suppress the blood-alcohol evidence. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed. The record did not establish the officers reasonably believed, at the time that they entered defendant’s home, that obtaining a warrant would have delayed preserving evidence that was dissipating. The state therefore failed to establish that the officers reasonably believed that they were faced with an exigency in this case. The Court recognized that, by deciding this case on the facts, it was not resolving the legal question that the parties raised, namely, what factors should be considered in determining whether an exigency search is justified. “However, because the state failed to establish the existence of an exigency, the state cannot justify its warrantless search as an exigency search, regardless of what other factors should be considered or how those factors should be weighed.” View "Oregon v. Ritz" on Justia Law

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Defendant Thomas Eastep arranged to sell another person’s truck for scrap. At the time, the truck was in a significant state of disrepair. He was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, unauthorized use of a vehicle (UUV). At trial, he argued that the state had failed to prove that he had used another person’s “vehicle,” because the truck that he had arranged to sell was in a state of significant disrepair and was not currently operable. The trial court disagreed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. On review, defendant argued that, at least as used in the statute defining the offense of UUV, a “vehicle” must be capable of operation, and there is no evidence that the truck was capable of operation. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with the state that the word “vehicle,” as it was used in ORS 164.135(1)(a), included no requirement of either current operability or capability of operation with only ordinary repairs. A vehicle may remain a “vehicle” within the meaning of that statute even if it needs more significant, but still reasonable, repairs. In this case, however, the state failed to establish that the truck that defendant had arranged to sell was in such a condition that it would have been reasonable to restore it to an operable condition. The Court therefore reversed defendant’s conviction. View "Oregon v. Eastep" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted defendant Joaquin Sierra of nine offenses: one count of first-degree kidnapping; two counts of second-degree kidnapping; one count of fourth-degree assault; and five counts of unlawful use of a weapon (UUW). The state did not allege enhancement factors. The trial court sentenced defendant to a total of 250 months in prison. The court imposed a 110-month sentence on the conviction for first-degree kidnapping, two consecutive 70-month sentences on the convictions for second-degree kidnapping, and concurrent sentences of 14 months or less on the remaining convictions (including all of defendant’s UUW convictions). On review, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the evidence did not support the convictions for two counts of second-degree kidnapping because the state had failed to prove the act element, reversed defendant’s convictions on those counts and remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing. On remand, a different judge, who did not preside over defendant’s original trial, imposed a longer total sentence than had the original trial court. This case presented two issues for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review: (1) whether Oregon common law or the federal Double Jeopardy Clause precluded the second sentencing court from imposing new sentences on defendant’s convictions for unlawful use of a weapon (UUW) because defendant already had served the previously imposed sentences; and (2) whether the Due Process Clause, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court in North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 US 711 (1969), and by the Oregon Court in Oregon v. Partain, 349 Or 10 (2010), precluded the imposition of a more severe sentence than originally imposed. The answer to both questions was no. The Oregon Court affirmed the trial court and appellate courts. View "Oregon v. Sierra" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death for killing a fifteen-year-old girl, HF. The state’s theory of the case was that petitioner had killed HF intentionally in furtherance of, or in an effort to conceal, the commission of sexual offenses against her. The state presented evidence that petitioner drugged HF with morphine, raped her, strangled her to death, then threw her body off a bridge. The sole defense theory presented by his trial counsel was that HF had not died as theorized by the state, but, instead, had died of drowning after petitioner threw her off the bridge. As a consequence, counsel argued, petitioner was entitled to an acquittal because the state had not initiated the prosecution in the county in which he had drowned HF. That defense was unsuccessful, and the jury convicted petitioner and sentenced him to death. Petitioner argued on appeal that, because, based on the evidence in the record, the jury could have found that the place of HF’s death could not be readily determined, and a venue defense was not viable in light of the alternative venue provisions of ORS 131.325. Counsel’s sole reliance on a weak technical defense made the penalty phase of his trial much more challenging. Petitioner asserted counsel should have pursued a morphine-overdose theory of the case, in light of petitioner’s statement to his defense team that he woke up after having sex with HF and discovered that she was dead. Petitioner further asserted that, if counsel had consulted a toxicologist, they would have developed credible evidence that HF died of a drug overdose, thus rebutting the state’s evidence that she died by strangulation. The post-conviction court agreed with petitioner with respect to that claim and, accordingly, granted relief. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Oregon Supreme Court did not view the relevant inquiry as how many experts should have been consulted; the “evaluation of counsel’s adequacy was more nuanced than that.” The Court determined the dispositive issue, rather, was whether adequate trial counsel would have attempted to develop a theory of defense that HF already was dead from a drug overdose when petitioner threw her body off the bridge. The Court concluded petitioner demonstrated that counsel’s failure to adequately investigate that defense affected the result of his trial. The decision of the Court of Appeals and the judgment of the circuit court were affirmed. View "Johnson v. Premo" on Justia Law

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Defendant Catherine Garcia was charged with two counts of interfering with a peace officer and one count of resisting arrest for her actions to prevent officers from arresting her boyfriend at a political march. At trial, defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal on the interfering counts, arguing that ORS 162.247(3) prohibited the state from charging her with both interfering and resisting arrest for the same acts. The trial court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing with defendant that the legislature had intended to preclude double charging. On review, the Oregon Supreme Court was asked to determine the import of ORS 162.247(3)(a) and whether the trial court erred by denying defendant’s motion and submitting both sets of charges to the jury when, as the parties agreed, the statute would not permit conviction on both. The Court concluded ORS 162.247(3)(a) did not preclude the state from alleging interfering and resisting arrest as alternative charges, even when based on the same acts, and, when the defendant disputed the charges, that the trial court should submit both charges to the jury with an appropriate instruction or verdict form. In this case, the trial court properly submitted all the charges to the jury. Therefore, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. View "Oregon v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Defendant Trevin King pled guilty to second-degree assault, and no contest to first-degree robbery in accordance with an oral plea agreement reached with the state. Six months later, the victim died because of his injuries from the assault, and then the state began another prosecution against defendant for felony murder and manslaughter. As a consequence of the plea agreement, the trial court granted defendant’s pretrial motion to dismiss the indictment and dismissed the case. The state appealed, arguing that applying ordinary principles of contract interpretation, the plea agreement posed no bar to the state’s otherwise permissible prosecution of defendant for homicide and that defendant assumed the risk of the victim’s death. Defendant argued the contract principles the state advanced could not be applied when a criminal defendant relinquished state and federal constitutional rights as part of a negotiated plea. The Oregon Supreme Court reached the same conclusion as the trial court did: a contractual default rule fills the gap in the plea agreement and prevents defendant’s reprosecution. View "Oregon v. King" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review in this matter centered on a trial court’s determination that defendant’s consent to a courthouse security officer’s generalized request to search her purse by hand, after running it twice through a courthouse x-ray screening device, extended to opening a small compact case that the officer found inside the purse. On her way to attend a juvenile court proceeding, defendant stopped at the security checkpoint inside the courthouse, placed her purse on the conveyor belt to be scanned, and walked through the body scanner. The officer at the checkpoint saw images of what appeared to be a compact and a spoon, objects that she thought might be “some sort of drug paraphernalia.” After scanning the purse a second time, with defendant’s permission, the officer asked to search defendant's purse in defendant's presence. The officer found a small, opaque compact, which she opened. Inside the compact, she saw a tiny plastic baggie filled with a white powder. Suspecting that the powder contained drugs, the screener contacted a Marion County deputy sheriff, who arrested defendant on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance. Defendant was ultimately charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine when the substance was later identified as methamphetamine. The Court of Appeals concluded that the state had failed to establish that the screener's search of the compact comported with the scope of the consent that defendant had given, that the search therefore was unlawlful, and that the trial court had erred in denying defendant’s motion to suppress. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding the scope-of-consent inquiry was a factual one, directed at what the defendant actually intended. Opposing inferences led to the trial court not appreciating the factual nature of the inquiry. The case was remanded for the trial court to reconsider its suppression ruling under the correct legal standard. View "Oregon v. Winn" on Justia Law

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Defendant argued his due process rights were violated when the trial judge initially imposed a sentence of 60 months’ probation on a misdemeanor conviction and on remand imposed a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment for the same misdemeanor. The sentence was for one conviction out of several that arose out of the same criminal incident. On the other convictions, his initial sentence included 170 months’ imprisonment; on remand, his sentence for the single other conviction was 75 months’ imprisonment. Defendant argued that, in increasing the sentence on his misdemeanor conviction, the judge violated the rule against vindictiveness set out in North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 US 711 (1969) and Oregon v. Partain, 239 P3d 232 (2010). Defendant argued that a presumption of vindictiveness should have applied in his case because there was a “reasonable likelihood” of actual vindictiveness, based on the fact that the same judge imposed the initial and subsequent sentences, and the fact that when analyzed under the remainder aggregate approach, defendant’s second sentence was “more severe” than the first. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the mere fact that the same judge presides over an initial and subsequent proceeding does not warrant the presumption of vindictiveness. The Court also rejected defendant’s claim that his later sentence was “more severe” because the trial increased the sentence for one of his convictions: “the correct approach is to compare the aggregate original sentence to the aggregate sentence on remand.” Because defendant’s sentence on remand was not “more severe” than his initial sentence, there was no presumption of an improper motive on the part of the trial judge. Defendant presented no other evidence that the trial court acted vindictively or out of an improper motive when sentencing him on remand. View "Febuary v. Oregon" on Justia Law

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Defendant, who was intellectually disabled, made an as-applied challenge to his 75-month mandatory minimum prison sentence for first-degree sexual abuse, on the ground that it violates Article I, section 16, of the Oregon Constitution, and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibit sentences that are disproportionate to the offense for which they are imposed. The trial court noted that defendant was intellectually disabled, but the court did not indicate that it had considered that factor in its proportionality analysis, and the court ruled that it lacked authority to consider the availability of rehabilitative treatment for defendant in a nonincarcerative setting, unless it first could conclude that the prison term mandated by ORS 137.700(2)(a)(P) (“Measure 11”) was disproportionate. The court concluded that the Measure 11 sentence was not disproportionate. The Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred when it compared the gravity of defendant’s offense and the severity of the Measure 11 sentence, because the court failed to consider evidence of defendant’s intellectual disability when that evidence, if credited, would establish that the sentence would be arguably unconstitutional because it shows that defendant’s age-specific intellectual capacity fell below the minimum age level of criminal responsibility for a child. However, the Court declined to consider defendant’s argument on review that the availability of rehabilitative treatment was relevant to the gravity of his offense, because defendant failed to adequately develop that argument within the context of this court’s analytical framework for proportionality challenges under Article I, section 16. View "Oregon v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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A Washington State Trooper had probable cause to believe that defendant was violating Washington traffic laws and initiated a stop in Washington; however, the trooper did not complete the stop until both he and defendant had travelled across the state line into Oregon. In a subsequent prosecution for driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII), defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the trooper’s stop, arguing that the trooper had violated defendant’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Oregon Constitution. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that, although Oregon law did not grant the trooper authority to stop defendant in Oregon, the evidence was constitutionally obtained and admissible. The Court reversed the contrary decision of the Court of Appeals, and affirmed the circuit court’s judgment of conviction. View "Oregon v. Keller" on Justia Law