Justia Oregon Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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During defendant Isaiah Payne's trial for third-degree sexual abuse, the complainant denied including a racial description of defendant in her statement to police and accused defense counsel of trying to make her look racist. The author of the police report testified that he had included that racial description in quotation marks because it was a direct quote from the complainant. Based on the difference between the officer’s testimony and the complainant’s testimony, defendant requested the uniform witness-false-in-part jury instruction. The trial court denied that request, and the jury found defendant guilty. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that, even if the trial court had erred in failing to deliver the requested witness-false-in-part instruction, any error was harmless. The Oregon Supreme Court granted certiorari review to address whether a trial court had to give a requested witness-false-in-part jury instruction if there was evidence to support a conclusion that a witness consciously testified falsely. Based on the Supreme Court's statutory construction of the phrase “all proper occasions” in ORS 10.095, the Court concluded the trial court should have given the instruction. The Court concluded it was not a harmless error by the trial court. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeal and remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Payne" on Justia Law

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Defendant Olan Williams was charged with two counts of first-degree sodomy. The jury was instructed that it could return a nonunanimous guilty verdict. Defendant did not object. The jury acquitted defendant of one count and convicted him of the other. The trial court polled the jury, revealing that the guilty verdict was nonunanimous. The trial court received both verdicts without objection by defendant. After defendant was sentenced, he moved for a new trial, challenging Oregon’s nonunanimous jury law, as applied to him, on Equal Protection Clause grounds. In Ramos v. Louisiana, 140 S Ct 1390 (2020), the United States Supreme Court held that, contrary to longstanding practice in Oregon, the United States Constitution required “[a] jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.” Many Oregon convictions based on nonunanimous verdicts were on appeal in a variety of procedural postures. In this case, the state conceded that, notwithstanding problems with defendant’s presentation of the issue to the trial court and to the Court of Appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court should have reversed defendant’s conviction, so long as it exercised its discretion to consider the error. The Oregon Supreme Court exercised its discretion to consider the error and accepted the state’s concession. The petition for review was allowed, limited to the issue of the appropriate disposition of this case in light of Ramos v. Louisiana. The decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed. The judgment of the circuit court was also reversed, and the case was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Defendant Adrian Ulery was charged with two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, and he exercised his right to trial by jury. He did not object to the jury being instructed that it could return a nonunanimous guilty verdict; his list of requested jury instructions included the uniform criminal jury instruction for a verdict in a felony case, an instruction that, consistent with Oregon law, informed the jury that ten votes to convict, from a jury of twelve, were sufficient for a guilty verdict. The jury convicted defendant of both counts. At defendant’s request, the jury was polled, revealing that both verdicts were nonunanimous. The trial court, without objection from defendant, received the verdicts. Defendant appealed, assigning error to the jury having been instructed that it could return a nonunani- mous verdict and to the receipt of nonunanimous verdicts. Defendant acknowledged that he had not preserved the issue in the trial court, but he requested plain error review. In Ramos v. Louisiana, 140 S Ct 1390 (2020), the United States Supreme Court held that, contrary to longstanding practice in Oregon, the United States Constitution required “[a] jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.” After Ramos issued, the state, through a letter to the Oregon Supreme Court and a notice filed in this case, conceded that, because defendant’s convictions were based on nonunanimous verdicts, they could not be sustained in light of the Supreme Court’s holding in Ramos. The state also conceded that the issue would qualify as plain error under ORAP 5.45(1) and advised the Oregon Court that, if it were to exercise its discretion to correct the unpreserved error, the Court should reverse defendant’s convictions and remand for a new trial. The Oregon Supreme Court accepted the state’s concession, exercised its discretion to review the error, and reversed defendant’s convictions. View "Oregon v. Ulery" on Justia Law

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After a grand jury issued an indictment charging defendant Hanad Ali Haji with multiple offenses, the district attorney determined that the indictment could be challenged by demurrer because the basis for joining those offenses was not expressly alleged. Instead of seeking another indictment from the grand jury, the district attorney obtained leave from the trial court to amend the indictment by adding allegations specifying the statutory basis for joinder, without adding factual allegations about the crimes. Defendant was convicted on some of the charges at trial, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on whether the district attorney could add allegations specifying the statutory basis for joinder of multiple offenses to an indictment instead of resubmitting the case to the grand jury. The Supreme Court determined that neither the statute permitting joinder of multiple offenses in a single indictment nor Article VII (Amended), section 5(6), of the Oregon Constitution precluded a district attorney, with approval of the trial court, from amending an indictment to add allegations specifying the statutory basis for joinder of multiple offenses. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, based in part on different reasoning, and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. View "Oregon v. Haji" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case is evidence discovered in a purse during an inventory of an impounded vehicle. A Hillsboro police officer observed defendant Tamara Fulmer driving a vehicle with expired registration tags. The officer initiated a stop, and defendant pulled over. The officer approached defendant and informed her of the reason for the stop. Defendant admitted not only that her registration tags were expired, but also that her driver’s license had expired and that she did not have insurance. The officer returned to the patrol vehicle, confirmed the information that defendant had given, and began writing a citation. The officer determined that defendant’s vehicle would need to be towed and impounded, as defendant could not legally drive it without a license or insurance, and it was blocking a bicycle lane. The officer called a second officer to assist. The first officer informed defendant that he would need to do an inventory of defendant's vehicle and told her to step out of the vehicle so the second officer could begin that process. Defendant exited the vehicle with her cell phone and a pack of cigarettes in her hand, but her purse remained on the passenger’s seat. Defendant neither asked to nor was told that she could remove additional items from the car. She stood near the patrol vehicle while the inventory took place. The second officer began the inventory by looking in defendant’s purse. In a wallet inside defendant’s purse, the officer found used syringes and a small amount of methamphetamine. Defendant was charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine. She moved to suppress the evidence found in her purse, arguing that the officers had unlawfully searched her purse. She acknowledged that, the Oregon Supreme Court previously recognized an inventory exception to the warrant requirement, but she asserted that the exception did not apply because the officers had not told her that she could remove her purse from her car. The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress, determining that “the inventory search was valid and it was lawfully followed through [the] policy that’s been implemented by the City of Hillsboro.” The trial court also determined that the officers were not required to ask defendant if she wanted to take her purse with her before conducting the inventory. The Supreme Court concluded after review of the trial court record that the application of the inventory exception in this case violated defendant’s rights under Article I, section 9. The trial court therefore erred in denying her pretrial motion to suppress, and the resulting judgment of conviction had to be reversed. View "Oregon v. Fulmer" on Justia Law

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This interlocutory appeal involves the “unavailability as a witness” requirement under Oregon Evidence Code (OEC) 804(1), for purposes of applying an exception to the hearsay rule in a criminal case. The State served a subpoena on a key witness to testify against defendant Chad Iseli and made other efforts to ensure her attendance at trial, but she did not attend. The State therefore moved to introduce her earlier out-of- court statements under the “forfeiture-by-wrongdoing” exception to the hearsay rule, OEC 804(3)(g). The trial court found that the State had made substantial efforts to secure the witness’s attendance and that she had expressed safety concerns about testifying. It also found, in relation to the forfeiture-by-wrongdoing exception, that defendant had engaged in intentional, wrongful conduct that had caused her absence. The court further determined, however, that the State had not established that the witness was unavailable because it had not sought a material witness warrant or a remedial contempt order. The court therefore denied the state’s motion to admit her earlier statements. The State appealed that ruling, and the Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that, particularly in light of defendant’s intentional, wrongful conduct, the State had satisfied the “process or other reasonable means” requirement of OEC 804(1)(e), thereby establishing that the witness was unavailable. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed, finding that while the trial court was incorrect to view certain facts as categorically irrelevant to the “unavailability as a witness” determination under OEC 804(1)(e). "Ultimately, though, when we add those facts to the calculus, we again conclude that the trial court’s ultimate ruling - that the state did not satisfy the “other reasonable means” component and, therefore, did not establish that the victim was unavailable - was correct. View "Oregon v. Iseli" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Pedro Martinez was ‘playing with’ a gun, and asked the victim for his wallet. The victim refused. Petitioner then asked the victim to get out of his car, and the victim refused that request, too, saying "you ain’t getting my wallet and you ain’t getting my car." Petitioner said, "Well, then I’m going to have to shoot you." As the victim tried to drive away, petitioner did just that: shooting the victim once in the arm. The victim testified that his car already was moving when petitioner fired; the victim believed it was possible that the car bumped petitioner’s hand, causing him to lose some control of the gun when he pulled the trigger. The victim drove the short distance to his home and called 9-1-1. He was transported to a hospital. A doctor who treated the victim testified that the bullet broke the victim’s arm and fragments traveled to his chest, coming within inches of multiple blood vessels. Petitioner was indicted on several counts, though the only counts relevant here charged petitioner with first-degree robbery and attempted aggravated felony murder. He sought post-conviction relief, contending that his counsel had been constitutionally inadequate by failing to argue that those crimes should be merged. The post-conviction court granted summary judgment against petitioner, concluding that he had not been prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to object, because as a matter of law the sentences would not merge. A majority of the Court of Appeals panel affirmed, On review, the presented to the Oregon Supreme Court was whether petitioner’s convictions should have been merged under ORS 161.067(1). The Court concluded they should have, reversed the trial and appellate courts, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Martinez v. Cain" on Justia Law

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The state charged defendant Joshua Andrews with two crimes: one count of fourth- degree assault, and one count of harassment. At trial, the state presented evidence that defendant drove to the victim’s place of work, began yelling at him, spat on him, and punched him in the face, knocking out his tooth bridge. The jury acquitted defendant on the assault charge but convicted him of harassment. Post-trial, the state asked the court to impose restitution for the cost of replacing the victim’s tooth bridge. Defendant objected, arguing that the trial court did not have statutory authority to do so. Defendant unsuccessfully argued that restitution was permitted only when a trial court could conclude, from the defendant’s conviction, that the defendant engaged in the criminal act that formed the basis for the award of restitution, and that, in this case, the trial court could not reach that conclusion: the act that formed the basis for the victim’s damages was the punch, and the jury could have convicted defendant of harassment without finding that defendant had punched the victim. Defendant appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Oregon Supreme Court allowed defendant’s petition for review, and, because it concluded the trial court could not award restitution under ORS 137.106, it reversed. View "Oregon v. Andrews" on Justia Law

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Consolidated cases concerned two defendants who were convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII), a crime ordinarily a misdemeanor but that, in each case, was elevated to a felony based on the defendant’s two prior convictions from other jurisdictions. The common question these cases presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review was whether the foreign laws under which defendants were convicted were “statutory counterparts” to ORS 813.010, the statute criminalizing DUII in Oregon. After analyzing the relevant statutes, the Supreme Court concluded the appropriate inquiry required “close element matching,” between ORS 813.010 and the foreign offense, an approach that the Court has previously employed in giving legal effect to convictions from other jurisdictions. Applying that standard to defendants’ foreign convictions, the Court concluded that none of the convictions at issue in this were under a statutory counterpart to ORS 813.010. View "Oregon v. Guzman" on Justia Law

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Defendant and the victim had two children together. Defendant and the victim were formerly in a relationship, but they broke up before the victim moved into the house where the unlawful entry at the center of this case took place. Although the victim previously had allowed defendant to visit their children at her house, defendant had never lived there, and the victim had made it clear to defendant that he was no longer welcome. On the day in question, defendant came to the house and told the victim that he wanted to shower and talk. She refused to let him inside and made sure to lock all the doors and windows before she left for work, fearing that defendant would try to come in while she was away. After the victim left, defendant broke into the house and destroyed a number of the victim’s possessions, including a new television and several lamps. He intentionally cut his arm with a knife, bleeding on various pieces of her living room furniture. Defendant sent the victim text messages with pictures of his bleeding arm as well as messages blaming her for problems in his life. Based on those pictures, the victim realized defendant was in her house. The police were called and arrested defendant. Defendant was eventually charged with, among other things, first-degree burglary constituting domestic violence and second-degree criminal mischief. The question before the Oregon Supreme Court was whether a person commits the crime of first-degree burglary when the person enters a dwelling unlawfully without the intent to commit an additional crime and then develops that intent while unlawfully present in the dwelling. The Supreme Court held that forming the intent to commit an additional crime while unlawfully present after an initial unlawful entry constitutes first-degree burglary under ORS 164.225. View "Oregon v. Henderson" on Justia Law