Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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This case presented a narrow question regarding the meaning of ORS 162.375(1), which defined the crime of “initiating a false report.” Defendant Robert Branch was convicted of that crime based on evidence that, in response to questions from sheriff’s deputies about a report that defendant left the scene of a traffic collision without exchanging the required driver information, defendant falsely claimed that he left the scene because the other driver had pointed a gun at him. Defendant argued on appeal of his conviction to the Oregon Supreme Court that a person does not “initiat[e] a false report” within the meaning of ORS 162.375(1), if the person lies in response to police questioning “about a report someone else initiated” and, thus, that the evidence was insufficient to permit his conviction under that statute. Although the Supreme Court agreed the legislature did not intend the statute to apply when a person merely responds to police questioning with false information regarding the circumstances of the same crime or emergency situation about which the person is being questioned, defendant’s proposed rule swept too broadly. The Supreme Court concluded the legislature intended the phrase “initiates a false alarm or report” to reach, at a minimum, the conduct of a person who, during questioning about one crime or emergency situation, falsely alleges new circumstances to which the law enforcement agency is reasonably likely to respond as a separate crime on an emergency basis. View "Oregon v. Branch" on Justia Law

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In an action for post-conviction relief, petitioner Charles Richardson successfully contended that his defense counsel had rendered constitutionally inadequate representation during a presentence hearing concerning whether petitioner was a dangerous offender who suffered from a “severe personality disorder” as provided in ORS 161.725(1)(a). Petitioner’s defense counsel cross-examined the psychiatrist who testified for the state, but counsel had not investigated significant records regarding petitioner’s background or consulted with an expert before the hearing, nor did he introduce evidence from a defense expert at the hearing. The jury found that petitioner suffered from a severe personality disorder, and the trial court sentenced petitioner to a lengthy prison term as a dangerous offender. After concluding that petitioner had been prejudiced as a result, the trial court vacated petitioner’s dangerous-offender sentence and remanded the case for resentencing. The Court of Appeals affirmed based on one of the post-conviction court’s conclusions: that defense counsel had provided inadequate assistance through failure to investigate and consult an expert and that petitioner suffered prejudice as a result. The State appealed, arguing the Court of Appeals erred for two alternative reasons: (1) defense counsel made a reasonable tactical decision to rely on cross-examination without consulting an expert; and (2) regardless, petitioner did not establish the required prejudice. The Oregon Supreme Court found no reversible error in the appellate or post-conviction relief court decisions, and affirmed. View "Richardson v. Belleque" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the legal sufficiency of the Attorney General’s certified ballot title for Initiative Petition 21 (2018). IP 21, if enacted, would alter the Oregon tax with respect to certain tobacco products in four ways: (1) increase the tax on cigarettes by 100 mills per cigarette, or $2.00 per pack; (2) eliminate the 50-cent cap on cigar taxes; (3) require that all moneys received from the new cigarette tax be first deposited with the state treasurer and, after the payment of any refunds for overpayments, be credited to the Public Health Account, “to be used for the funding of local public health authorities in all areas of the state for public health programs;” and (4) the tax and the use of cigarette-tax revenues would apply retroactively to the distribution of cigarettes and tobacco products on or after January 1, 2018. In this case, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that, in two respects, the Attorney General’s certified ballot title did not substantially comply with the law. Therefore, it was referred back to the Attorney General for modification. View "Wilson/Fitz v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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The Oregon Supreme Court dismissed this ballot title challenge without addressing the merits. The Court determined it did not have authority to consider a ballot title challenge if the underlying initiative measure had not satisfied all the statutory prerequisites for obtaining a ballot title in the first place. View "Unger v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether, when a defendant files a motion to suppress all statements made during an encounter with police, and the trial court’s ruling addresses some (but not all) of those statements, the defendant must again request suppression of the statements that the court failed to address to preserve the matter for appeal. The state charged defendant Keith Schmidtke with, among other things, identity theft, first-degree theft, and second-degree escape. Defendant filed a single pre-trial suppression motion in which he sought to suppress all of the statements he made during his encounter with the officer, both before and after Miranda warnings were given, as well as some physical evidence. The trial court issued a written order in which it suppressed some physical evidence, denied suppression of other physical evidence, denied suppression of the post-Miranda statements, and gave defendant leave to file a motion to controvert a search warrant based on the suppression ruling. The order, however, did not explicitly address defendant’s motion as to the suppression of the pre-Miranda statements. Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea and appealed the denial of his motion to suppress. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded defendant need not request suppression of the statements a second time. View "Oregon v. Schmidtke" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought review of the Oregon Attorney General’s certified ballot title for Initiative Petition 19 (2018) (IP 19), arguing that the ballot title caption did not satisfy the requirements of ORS 250.035(2)(a). If adopted by voters, IP 19 would prohibit a person from serving as a member of the Legislative Assembly for more than eight years in any period of 12 years. Subject to certain exceptions, IP 19 specifically provided that the measure would apply “retroactively to limit service by any person who is a Representative or Senator upon the effective date of this Act, so that current or prior membership is included in the calculation of years of service.” Petitioner contends that that caption does not comply with ORS 250.035(2)(a); although petitioner acknowledged that the caption informed voters of one major effect of IP 19 (its prohibition on years of service) petitioner contended that it failed to inform voters of another major effect, that the measure applies retroactively, with exceptions. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed that the caption could have been more explicit: the actual impact of the measure on the legislature’s composition was a major effect that must be described in the ballot title’s caption. The Court referred the ballot back to the Attorney General for modification. View "Swanson v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought review of the ballot title prepared for Referendum Petition (RP) 301 (2018). Among other things, that bill created a new Health System Fund, which would pay the cost of administering a new Oregon Reinsurance Program, provide additional funding for medical assistance and health services to low-income individuals and families under ORS chapter 414, and make other payments. The bill then imposed temporary, two-year assessments on insurance premiums or premium equivalents received by insurers (section 5(2)), managed care organizations (section 9(2)), and the Public Employees’ Benefit Board (section 3(2)), that would be paid into the State Treasury and credited to the fund. Petitioners contended the caption, the “yes” and “no” result statements, and the summary did not comply with requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2). The Oregon Supreme Court reviewed the ballot title to determine whether it substantially complied with those requirements. The Court agreed with some of petitioners’ contentions, but disagreed with others, concluding that each part of the ballot title required modification. View "Parrish v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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This case centered on a public records request made by defendant Oregonian Publishing Company, LLC (The Oregonian), a newspaper, to plaintiff Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), a public health and research university that provided patient care at its hospital, conducted research, and educated health care professionals and scientists. The circuit court ordered OHSU to disclose the requested record, and OHSU appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded to the circuit court to examine the public records at issue and then determine whether state and federal exemptions permitted OHSU to withhold some of the requested information. On review, the issues narrowed to whether the requested record contained “protected health information” and student “education records” under federal and Oregon law and, if so, whether that information nonetheless had to be disclosed pursuant to ORS 192.420(1), a provision of the Oregon Public Records Law (OPRL). The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the requested record contained protected health information and that ORS 192.420(1) did not require the disclosure of that information. The Court declined to consider whether the part of the requested record consisting of tort claim notices filed by students contained “education records,” and, if so, whether those records were exempt from disclosure. The Court therefore reversed in part, and affirmed in part the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "OHSU v. Oregonian Publishing Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Carvel Dillard was charged with four counts of sexual abuse in the second degree and four counts of prostitution. The indictment alleged crimes against two victims. Petitioner was not represented by counsel at trial. A jury found petitioner not guilty of the counts involving one of the victims, but found petitioner guilty of two counts involving the other victim. Petitioner unsuccessfully pursued a direct appeal. Petitioner then filed a timely pro se petition for post-conviction relief. He alleged (1) prosecutorial misconduct that, he claimed, violated his federal rights to a fair trial and due process under Brady v. Maryland, 373 US 83 (1963), and that could not reasonably have been raised and preserved before or during his trial proceedings; (2) trial court errors, including denial of appointed counsel, that, he alleged, could not effectively have been raised and preserved during the trial proceedings; (3) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel; and (4) actual innocence. Defendant, Superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, filed a motion pursuant to ORCP 21 A(8) to dismiss the petition for failure to state ultimate facts sufficient to constitute post-conviction claims. Petitioner was represented by counsel for the hearing on his motion, and, although the pro se petition at issue requested a hearing, counsel did not request a hearing on defendant’s motion, and the post-conviction court did not grant a hearing. Instead, the court found defendant’s arguments persuasive, adopted them, and granted defendant’s motion. Subsequently, the court entered a general judgment dismissing the action “with prejudice.” Defendant conceded dismissal of the action “with prejudice” was made in error. The question this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review was whether, as defendant argued, ORS 138.525(3) bars an appellate court from correcting that error. The Supreme Court concluded the legislature did not intend to preclude appellate correction of the post-conviction court’s error. Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Dillard v. Premo" on Justia Law

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In this case, the state issued a subpoena for a witness against defendant Kenneth Harris, and the witness did not appear for trial. The state then offered hearsay evidence in lieu of live testimony, arguing that the witness’s failure to appear in response to the subpoena sufficed to establish her unavailability. Defendant argued that a witness is unavailable for confrontation purposes only when the state has exhausted all reasonable means of securing the appearance of the witness. Once the state became aware that its witness would not appear, he argued, it could have taken any number of additional actions to secure her appearance, but did not do so. The trial court offered to continue the trial to allow the state to take such additional steps, but defendant objected. The trial court then concluded that the state had made reasonable efforts to produce the witness and admitted the hearsay. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that “more could have been done” to produce the witness at trial. The Oregon Supreme Court did not decide whether the state reasonably should have pursued those other measures. Defendant did not explain, and the Supreme Court did not understand, “how the state can be faulted for failing to obtain a continuance to pursue other means of producing the witness when defendant objected to the state being allowed to do just that.” The Court surmised: by objecting to the state being allowed to take further measures to produce its witness, defendant essentially invited any error that may have resulted, and invited error is no basis for reversal. The Supreme Court rejected the state’s contention that the unavailability requirement of Article I, section 11, was satisfied when a witness fails to comply with a subpoena. The state must exhaust reasonably available measures for producing the witness. In so holding, however, the Court reiterated that the rule was one of reasonableness under the circumstances of the individual case. Under the circumstances here, defendant was in no position to complain that the trial court erred in concluding that the victim was unavailable for confrontation purposes and in admitting the 9-1-1 recording of her report. The decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed. View "Oregon v. Harris" on Justia Law