Articles Posted in Criminal 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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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 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

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Petitioner Michael Haynes sought judicial review of a final order of the Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision that denied his petition to change the terms of his life imprisonment to allow for the possibility of release. The Court of Appeals dismissed the case because petitioner’s appointed counsel missed the deadline for filing a petition for judicial review in that court. The Oregon Supreme Court allowed review to consider whether petitioner, who was statutorily entitled to be assisted by counsel on review, should or must be allowed to proceed with his untimely petition for review when the late filing was entirely due to neglect by appointed counsel. Petitioner argued that his statutory right to counsel must be construed as a right to adequate counsel, that he was denied that statutory right when his counsel missed the filing deadline for judicial review, and that this court should address the statutory violation by excusing the untimely filing. Petitioner also contends that a denial of judicial review under these circumstances violated his due process rights. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded petitioner was not entitled to relief: jurisdiction for judicial review of a board order is a creation of statute, and even if petitioner was correct that he had a statutory right to adequate counsel on review which has been denied because of appellate counsel’s late filing, he was not correct that the appropriate remedy was to excuse the jurisdictional requirement of a timely petition. View "Haynes v. Board of Parole" on Justia Law

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If an individual has been released on both probation and post-prison supervision subject to the same or similar conditions, a single act may violate the conditions of both probation and post-prison supervision. Defendant Matthew Richards was sentenced on two different criminal offenses and was subject to both probation and post-prison supervision at the same time. A condition of both was that he not change addresses without permission. He did not comply with that condition. As a result, the official who supervised his post-prison supervision on one offense imposed a sanction of three days in jail. The trial court imposed an additional sanction of revoking his probation on the other offense and sentenced him to a term of imprisonment on that offense. The issue in this case was whether the trial court had authority to do so. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court does have such authority. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. View "Oregon v. Richards" on Justia Law

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The question in this case was whether K.A.M. was stopped during the search of a drug house when a detective came upon youth and a friend in one of the bedrooms, told K.A.M.'s friend to “stay off the meth,” asked them their names, and then asked whether they had anything illegal on them. Because the trial court ruled that no stop occurred, it denied K.A.M.'s motion to suppress evidence discovered during the encounter. The Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, agreeing that no stop had occurred. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded after a review of the trial court record, however, a stop occurred, it reversed the Court of Appeals decision and the trial court’s judgment. View "Oregon v. K. A. M." on Justia 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