A growing rift between some of Oregon’s elected prosecutors emerged further on Friday after a three-hour meeting during which members discussed the upcoming legislature.
Following the meeting, the Oregon District Attorneys Association issued a statement in support of long-term, voter-approved mandatory minimum sentences. However, it did so because of objections from some of the newest and most progressive members of the group.
Hours after the ODAA issued a statement in support of Oregon’s mandatory minimum requirements, known as Measure 11, the elected prosecutors for Multnomah, Deschutes and Wasco counties issued their own calling the current criminal justice system “unfair” and welcomed the cooperation the state legislators year on alternatives.
Measure 11 is a set of voter-approved minimum sentences for crimes such as robbery, rape, murder and assault. It was passed by the electorate in 1994 and reaffirmed in 2000.
The duel statements show a growing gulf between some of the state’s elected prosecutors and a movement among their constituents on how best to ensure public safety. Mandatory minimum sentences have a profound impact on the criminal justice system. Not only for defendants and victims of crime, but also for the state budget. Approximately half of the inmates serving sentences in an Oregon prison are incarcerated on a Measure 11 offense.
Since Oregon voters reaffirmed Action 11 more than 20 years ago, more progressive prosecutors in Oregon and across the country have begun rethinking policies that allow them to prosecute crimes in ways that include the penalty of a defendant can dictate. In Oregon, more than 90% of criminal cases end with objection agreements instead of going to court.
Salem lawmakers are considering reforms to Measure 11 during the six-month legislature due to begin this month. While the Oregon District Attorney’s Association said it was open to some reforms, it also released the results of a poll it conducted in December Commissioned to show lawmakers that some voters continue to provide support.
The poll found that most voters hadn’t heard of Measure 11, but supported the idea once they learned more, but also supported Oregon lawmakers in abolishing all mandatory minimum requirements for violent criminals and giving judges a range of options and options to give the last word when it comes to condemnation. The ODAA hired Fallon Research to conduct the poll, which consisted of 600 registered voters and was conducted December 10-14. The error rate was 4%.
Critics say mandatory minimum requirements give prosecutors an edge in negotiations.
Color communities are also disproportionately affected by mandatory minimum requirements, in part because they are overrepresented in criminal justice.
Proponents of Measure 11 attribute crime reduction.
“In the first two decades after Law 11 was passed, the number of violent crimes in Oregon more than halved,” Washington district attorney Kevin Barton said in a December statement. “While I encourage responsible conversation to ensure that our criminal laws reflect our current needs and values, I believe that lifting the minimum penalty in Action 11 for violent crimes will reduce Oregonian safety and goes against the will of Oregon voters.”
On Friday, the 36 members of the ODAA met and voted for a statement in support of Measure 11, stating that this was the association’s position.
“The Oregon District Attorneys Association promotes public safety values that include accountability for criminals through truth and transparent judgment, and the protection and advocacy of crime victims and their rights,” the statement said. “Action 11 is in line with these values as it is a proven tool for keeping Oregonians safe by setting minimum sentences for the most violent crimes such as rape, violent assault and child sexual abuse.”
The statement said that Measure 11 reassures victims of crime that violent criminals will be punished and that it should remain the law to “keep Oregonians safe”.
During Friday’s meeting and the vote on Measure 11 of the ODAA, some members raised objections. Despite these objections, the statement was made anyway.
Multnomah District Attorney Mike Schmidt, Deschutes District Attorney John Hummel, and Wasco District Attorney Mathew Ellis oppose Measure 11. Both Schmidt and Ellis were elected last spring.
Hours later, the three prosecutors made their own statement.
“The Oregon District Attorneys Association recently conducted a poll showing that a majority of Oregon voters believe that sentences should be imposed by a judge rather than a prosecutor,” the three prosecutors said. “Compulsory minimum sentences should be a thing of the past. Our system of mandatory minimum requirements is contributing to the rapid growth of our prison population and has resulted in the disproportionate incarceration of various communities. It didn’t make us any safer. “
Despite the fundamental difference of opinion, Hummel described the meeting as cordial.
Hummel, Ellis, and Schmidt said each made it clear to voters in their county that mandatory minimum requirements are “unfair, often excessive and increase inequality in our prisons.”
Some progressive activists have raised the prospect that the three of them might one day leave the ODAA. In their statement, the three progressive prosecutors said they hope to continue working with the organization.