Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oregon makes drug possession a misdemeanor

By Andrew Selsky
Associated Press
Published on August 15, 2017 5:21PM
“The message it sends is this is just not that big a deal,” Marquis said. 
The district attorney called heroin and meth “scourges” in Clatsop County and communities across the nation. “They’re not just a minor problem. They’re a huge problem,” he said. 
Marquis said felony drug possession charges often acted as leverage to steer drug abusers into treatment and drug court. “We know that people don’t seek treatment until they either bottom out or they have no choice,” he said. “By making it a felony, it does threaten people with some consequences.”
SALEM — A bill signed by Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday makes personal-use possession of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs a misdemeanor, not a felony.
Oregon joined just a handful of other states in defelonizing drugs under the new law, which was supported by some law enforcement groups and takes effect immediately.
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, who spoke out against the idea at the state Legislature, said possession of the dangerous drugs is now as serious as shoplifting or minor vandalism.
“The message it sends is this is just not that big a deal,” Marquis said.
The district attorney called heroin and meth “scourges” in Clatsop County and communities across the nation. “They’re not just a minor problem. They’re a huge problem,” he said.
Marquis said felony drug possession charges often acted as leverage to steer drug abusers into treatment and drug court. “We know that people don’t seek treatment until they either bottom out or they have no choice,” he said. “By making it a felony, it does threaten people with some consequences.”
Jo Meza, owner of Amazing Treatment, a rehab center in Salem, applauded the new law. She has seen the damage caused by drug addiction in her 30 years in the field.
“There’s a huge crisis out there, and locking people up is not going to work,” Meza said.
Looking to kick their addictions, patients ascended a flight of stairs into Amazing Treatment, located above a Mexican restaurant and a barber shop in downtown Salem.
Inside the center, someone had drawn a syringe on a whiteboard with the words “No more.” Above that was a quote by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.”
Meza said imprisoning first-time offenders with limited or non-existent treatment opportunities is not a solution. But the goal can be achieved with treatment for six months to a year with support from recovering addicts and training in how to remove oneself from the environment that led to the drug abuse, like a circle of addicted friends or relatives, she said.
“Jailing is not helping the problem,” Meza said. “All you’re doing is putting a Band-Aid on it and ripping it off when they get out of jail.”
Among the law’s supporters were the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, which said felony convictions include unintended consequences, including barriers to housing and employment. But the two groups, in a letter to a state senator who backed the bill, said the new law “will only produce positive results if additional drug treatment resources accompany this change in policy.”
“Reducing penalties without aggressively addressing underlying addiction is unlikely to help those who need it most,” the groups warned. Another measure appropriated $7 million that can be used to pay for drug treatment.
Linn County District Attorney Doug Marteeny had tried to convince lawmakers to dump the defelonization of dangerous drugs from the legislation, which also targets police profiling.
“To change the classification of this behavior from a felony to a misdemeanor is tantamount to telling our schoolchildren that tomorrow it will be less dangerous to use methamphetamine than it is today,” he wrote.
Those who have a prior a felony conviction won’t be afforded misdemeanor consideration, nor will people who have two or more prior drug convictions or possess more than user amounts.
The new law also directs a state commission to develop methods for recording data concerning police-initiated pedestrian and traffic stops. The measure is aimed at ensuring police aren’t stopping people based on racial or other profiling.
Marquis described the legislation as a “wolf dressed up in lamb’s clothing” because the drug provisions were tacked on to the profiling language, which had broader support.
The Daily Astorian contributed to this report.
Read the article on the Daily Astorian website.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Recording Oregon's grand juries is wrong

The bill that would require recording all grand jury testimony is about to pass, will likely add about $150,000 to Clatsop County costs and will have a particularly chilling effect on the testimony of domestic violence and child sexual abuse victims...

Recording Oregon's grand juries is wrong
By Guest Columnist
By Joshua Marquis
Posted on June 18, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis argues that recording grand juries will have a chilling effect on justice.  

Spencer Weiner/AP
When it comes to public safety, Oregon has long led the way on progressive policies: Allowing small amounts of marijuana in 1973. Creating some of the nation's first drug courts in 1991. Providing citizen involvement in grand juries, where criminals are charged. Now criminal defense attorneys and a phalanx of well-financed lobbyists who oppose victims' rights are pushing to record grand jury proceedings and make these secret proceedings public.

Their clarion call is "transparency," a new buzzword that, ironically in this case, obfuscates the truth. The fact is that defense attorneys want a new tool to badger and intimidate witnesses, prolong litigation and tie up courts with procedural challenges.

Rather than being honest with the public and the legislature, they enlist surrogates like Irene Kalonji whose commentary "Police killed my son and I deserve to know the truth," was published in The Oregonian's Opinion section on June 6. Kalonji wrote that 19-year old son barricaded himself in a room with a rifle in 2016 and "told emergency responders that he was going to die, threatened to shoot children, and said he believed someone had been sent to torture and kill him." After hours of negotiations with law enforcement and mental health professionals, the standoff tragically ended with his death.

Though not required, the district attorney presented the case to seven grand jurors. Again per Kalonji's commentary, the grand jury concluded that a young man who everyone agreed suffered significant mental health issues "committed suicide by police."

The outcomes Ms. Kalonji seeks are simply not relevant to the debate over recording grand jury proceedings. The legal purpose of an Oregon grand jury is not to bring closure for victims, witnesses or family members of the accused. The grand jury is a reality check for prosecutors, who have been known to "fall in love" with a case only to be told by citizen grand jurors it lacks legal merit. A main reason grand jury proceedings are "secret" is to protect the reputations of those who are accused, but not indicted.

Further, recording grand juries will have a chilling effect on justice. What domestic violence victim will be willing to share her story when she knows that a recording of her statement could be handed over to the man who beat her or her children just days earlier? Even the most optimistic among us know how tragically that could end.

For decades, grand juries have operated inexpensively and efficiently. Adopting recording that would achieve the current judicial standard could exceed $10 million. Recording equipment would be required in every county, expert clerks would be required to operate and service the equipment, and the thousands of hours of recordings would need to be stored for years.

Assuming the legislature adopts this dangerous, misguided policy, most district attorneys, including myself, are likely to reserve grand juries for unusual cases. Instead, we will conduct preliminary hearings, the way California, Idaho and more than 20 other states have to bring cases to trial.

Preliminary hearings offer the most transparency, yet take much more time and could cost the state as much as $10 million annually for a process, which currently isn't required.

Why "fix" a system that isn't broken? In 1994, I was appointed by Gov. Barbara Roberts after my predecessor lied to the Clatsop County grand jury to falsely charge two police officers for crimes they never committed. Her secret indictment and subsequent conviction reassured citizens that the grand jury system works.

There is no chance that recording grand juries will prevent the next violent interaction between a troubled teenager and law enforcement. Rather, it could mean the mental health services Christopher Kalonji desperately needed will be even further out of reach for others. Instead of sinking millions into a solution for which there is no problem, how about the legislature invest the millions on desperately needed mental health services? We might then have a chance to prevent the next tragedy, instead of just recording its aftermath.

Joshua Marquis is in his seventh term as the Clatsop County District Attorney. He also served as president of the Oregon District Attorneys Association in 2001, as well as vice president of the National District Attorneys Association.

Read the column and its comments on the Oregonian's website.

Don't surrender to heroin and meth addiction

The ACLU and it supporters dominated the Wednesday, June 14 hearing on HB 2355-A, chaired by Sen. Jackie Winters. Despite driving 280 miles round-trip and signed up as the only opponent willing to testify, I was not permitted to testify until over an hour into a 90-minute hearing -- and then was reminded the committee's time was too short for me to explain.

This part of an otherwise not controversial racial profiling bill would reduce virtually all heroin and meth cases to misdemeanors. The "harsh penalties" in Oregon are possible jail sentences of up to 10 days, rarely actually served, for the fourth or fifth PCS Heroin conviction.

Most disturbing, and unmentioned in this story, is the almost certainty that by removing felonies as the coercive lever that drives most addicts into drug court, drug court will simply cease to exist.
Supporters of the bill were candid in their belief that law enforcement has no real role at all in limiting open heroin or meth use and addiction.

I'm not prepared to abandon all those humans just yet....

Bill in Oregon Legislature would reclassify some felony drug crimes as misdemeanors

A bill being considered in the Oregon Legislature would change the way small-scale drug crimes are treated in Oregon.

HB 2355 is aimed at reducing unjust profiling in Oregon. However, the part of the bill that deals with drug crime classification has drawn most of the controversy.

"This bill runs up the white flag," said Joshua Marquis, district attorney for Clatsop County. "It surrenders to heroin and meth addiction. The message we're sending, not only to criminals but the community, by de-felonizing these drugs is, 'it's just that big of a deal.'"

Marquis says a felony drug crime, simply by the nature of its severity, acts as a deterrent to future drug use.

"We're talking about providing the incentives, frankly the coercive tools to force people who are in addiction into treatment," said Marquis.

The ACLU of Oregon fired back at that assumption.

"The idea that there isn’t still some penalty associated with not going through your treatment and not actually doing the things you’re supposed to do when you get this misdemeanor, that’s just absolutely false," said Kimberly McCollough, policy director for the ACLU of Oregon. "The war on drugs has failed. We need to start treating drug use and addiction as a public health issue."

The debate over drug crime classification has overshadowed the main goal of the bill -- reducing profiling in Oregon. The bill would require law enforcement agencies collect data on the age, race, ethnicity, and sex of a person contacted during a traffic or pedestrian stop. That data would then be reviewed by 2020 and it would be used to develop strategies for reducing profiling. Drug crime classification became part of the bill during task force discussions.

"The drug war is inextricably tied up in and intertwined with the issue of profiling," said McCollough. "In order to find out who's using drugs or who possesses drugs there's a real incentive to try to search folks. What we found is that profiling is often amplified, that disparities are often amplified in those discretionary decisions to search someone."

The bill is still in committee but proponents are optimistic about its eventual passage.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Public safety, not percentages


Guest column: Public safety, not percentages 

We evaluate each case person by person

By Joshua Marquis
Special to The Daily Astorian
Published on March 30, 2017 12:01AM

In journalism, research and trial law, you learn that the questions asked are as important, sometimes more so, than the answers. Recent articles in The Daily Astorian have discussed a state program called “justice reinvestment” without asking some pertinent questions.

One might assume from some of the glossy graphs from Salem that Clatsop County is sending a stunningly high percentage of people to prison.

A deeper dive shows otherwise. On a statewide average, 24% of felons were sent to prison last year following conviction. In Clatsop County, that rate was 21%. Nineteen Oregon counties send felons to prison following conviction at a higher rate than does Clatsop County.

Where Clatsop County’s prosecutors and judges are tougher is in a smaller set of cases known as downward departures. In these cases my office will recommend giving the offender a second (and often third, fourth or fifth) chance by agreeing to probation — if the offender will agree to serve a set number of months in prison (generally less than 24) should a judge determine their probation is not properly fulfilled.

Clatsop County sends 14% of its felons to prison in this manner, a rate still lower than four other counties, including the most populous, Multnomah.

Judges are the only ones who can send people to prison and are only mandated to send felons to prison for first-degree Measure 11 crimes such as murder, manslaughter, sexual abuse in the first degree, or rape in the first degree. In 2008, prosecutors and Portland-area legislators formed an unusual alliance to pass a more sensible measure to beat out Measure 61, which would have also mandated prison terms for many first-time burglars and car thieves. Measure 57 was supported by almost all of the state’s elected district attorney’s, including myself.

The Legislature’s response? They suspended Measure 57 at their next regular session, claiming it would cost too many prison beds. Then in 2013, they hammered out the justice reinvestment plan, again rolling back portions of the measure. (Several legislators, like our own state Sen. Betsy Johnson, did not support crossing the voters.) In theory, money that would not be spent on state prison beds for second-time home burglars or four-time identity thieves, would be diverted to the counties for local programs.

But justice reinvestment creates a negative bounty, essentially paying parts of the justice system to not send repeat property offenders and drug dealers to prison.

Clatsop County felons often chalk up four or five violations before a judge says “enough” and revokes their probation. Many felons struggle with addiction issues. Efforts are made through Drug Court and Mental Health Court, in which my office participates, to assist these people, allowing them multiple fails.

Importantly, Salem is famous for pushing unfunded mandates on local governments. The justice reinvestment dollars are likely to expire or simply dry up in a couple of years.

Only a judge can decide to send a felon to prison. We are fortunate that our three Circuit Court judges make good decisions.

So, when looking at the data proffered by Salem, consider these questions:

• How robust are the local Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police, and local agencies? In Clatsop County, they all do excellent work. But the more felons they catch, the more will be prosecuted. And, by the way, the fewer honest citizens will become victims of crime.

• Is there a local jail with available beds that could take some felons who might otherwise be sent to the state prison? Not in Clatsop County.

• Does the county have a significant tourist trade, or what we legally call “transient population?” The Daily Astorian reported recently that 42% of driving under the influence of intoxicants defendants did not live in Clatsop County.

My office carefully evaluates each case — not based on what the data will show at the end of the year, and hoping to “come up with good numbers.” We evaluate each case person by person, considering both the defendant and the victims, and the resources available, and make decisions based on public safety.

read the OpEd on the Daily Astorian's website

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Some never make it

Special to The Daily Astorian
Published on February 21, 2017 12:01AM

We have been too eager to declare victory in a war on drugs that never really started.

A recent editorial in The Daily Astorian correctly pointed to the dismal state of Oregon’s response to deaths directly caused by illegal drugs.

Another article chronicled the sad journey of Dave and Kerry Strickland, who lost their son, Jordan, to heroin and have had the courage to speak about a battle that touches so many families.

Not coincidentally, another article documented the rigors of getting a new police officer on the road at the Astoria Police Department.

While there has been some progress, together the three articles outline the imperative need for local governments to even more effectively and aggressively address drug abuse and illegal drugs.

Over-prescription of some drugs has been dramatically reduced. Pseudoephedrine was a common off-the-shelf cold medicine that was also crucial to the manufacture of methamphetamine — perhaps the worst of all the drugs. Its catastrophic health consequences include near-immediate addiction and psychotic behavior. Meth cooks bought larges batches of the drug from local stores, until Oregon passed legislation making a doctor’s prescription necessary for purchase. The “Beavis and Butthead labs,” as law enforcement called them, declined to almost zero.

We assumed that meant meth was gone. But that wasn’t so. Meth now comes into the United States in 55-gallon drums from international cartels.

The opiate that is killing people now is heroin. Heroin used to cost about $20 a dose and was far less potent. Today it is sometimes laced with illegally-imported quantities of the super-potent fentanyl, another opiate which has, when medically administered, brought tremendous relief to many (including my own mother) who suffer from severe chronic pain. “Recreational use” is the most ironic of terms for fentanyl-laced heroin, which now sells from $3 to $5 a dose and could be potent enough to kill the first time.

And so, another geopolitical aspect to our drug problems.

Many people addicted to drugs don’t end up in the court system. Some people never make it past the emergency room. Clatsop County is exceedingly fortunate to have Dr. Joann Giuliani to serve as our county’s medical examiner, not only being on call literally 24/7, but also working with police and the community when tragedies like opiate overdoses take someone’s life. Often, she answers the difficult questions families often have about how their child died.

A solid drug policy would address and provide: low-cost and long-term mental health and drug treatment; a law enforcement team dedicated to drug enforcement; and a practical, viable drug court backed up by the potential of real sanctions and real rewards. All three elements need reinforcement.
Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare has made real progress. Still, mental health treatment is scarce, and Clatsop County has no detox or secure mental health beds. In-patient drug treatment is operated entirely by private providers and remains out of reach for most without better-than-average insurance.

The path to sobriety is not easy, which is why we do not seek revocation of the second chances we extend on most drug possession cases the first few times they admit relapsing. But the threat of even a few days in jail may prompt someone to stay sober, to attend treatment, and to make it to the next stage in recovery. The people who complete drug court graduate with their case entirely dismissed.

After having founded Clatsop County’s Drug Court, Judge Philip Nelson has retired, turning drug court over to our newest judge, Dawn McIntosh. Because of sentencing guidelines, which judges are required to follow, it is literally impossible for someone to face prison for drug possession, no matter how bad their record or how many prior similar convictions they have racked up.

Not that most drug addicts belong in prison. Oregon has one of the lowest rates of imprisoning drug felons, at less than 10% of the state prison population. There is even a badly-conceived effort in this legislative session to reduce all possession cases from felonies to misdemeanors, further minimizing the actual harm done to users, their family, and the community. If the possibility of “earning away” a possible felony conviction, even without the threat of prison, is further eroded, then we can expect drug court applicants to dry to next to zero, as they have in California and other states that took this ill-advised step.

With heroin and meth being bigger business than ever, there is no reason, and no sense, in not addressing both the supply and demand sides of the drug problem.

The Clatsop County Drug Team allows police to focus on higher-level dealers, cutting off the supply much more effectively. It would have vanished long ago but for the determination of Sheriff Tom Bergin, who once ran the team as a detective. In its best years there were detectives from Astoria, Seaside, the Sheriff’s Office, and even the Oregon State Police. Draconian budget cuts have worn down the State Police for years and took away OSP’s detective. The years that Astoria Police participated were among the most productive. The City of Astoria should dedicate an officer to the drug team, in addition to its current needs.

We owe it to Dave, Kerry and Jordan Strickland, and the many others who have suffered under what The Daily Astorian called “this blight,” to do these basic steps to make Clatsop County a better place.

Here is the OpEd on the Daily Astorian's website.