Saturday, May 26, 2012

DA Wins Battle Over DUII Cases

Clatsop County DA wins battle over DUII case jurisdiction

by Thom Jensen KATU News and staff Published: May 25, 2012 at 11:05 PM PDT Last Updated: May 28, 2012 at 2:10 PM PDT. Original story click here.

It's a ruling that could end what critics call a "good ol' boy" system of prosecuting drunken drivers along the Oregon Coast. Prosecutors in Clatsop County have been fighting the city of Astoria for jurisdiction over those cases.

Click here for video
In the ruling issued Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Albin W. Norblad wrote, "It is this court's opinion the district attorney controls and directs prosecutions of DUII's in all the courts in his county, and in this case, the city of Astoria."

But will the order change the politics of prosecuting repeat offenders?

Ever since anyone in Astoria can remember, drunken driving cases inside the city limits have been handled by the city attorney.

But some say that has caused problems. One woman pointed to how her mom died of an overdose after her mother only received slaps on the wrist for multiple drunken driving arrests that were handled at Astoria’s municipal court. Other people pointed to a mayor who never did any jail time even after getting a third DUII.                

Even after the judge said Astoria needs to handle these cases differently, the judicial turf war continues.

It's a subject that many Astorians are reluctant to talk about publicly, saying it's too political and they don't want to buck the system in the town with a population of only 10,000. Many, however, complained that they believed a "good old boy" system was in place at city court and connected people were getting off easy while others faced stiff punishments.

But for the past two years, District Attorney Josh Marquis has been bucking the system and fighting to take over all DUII cases in Clatsop County. He took the city to court in April and now can claim victory.

"I'm hoping that we can work together on this and that this is over now," he said.

Marquis said he'll make certain everyone gets a fair shake if his office handles the cases.

"It will mean more accountability and more consistency, and whether you get arrested in Cannon Beach or Seaside or on the Megler Bridge, or the old Youngs Bay Bridge or in front of the courthouse, you will be treated the same," he said.

Astoria's mayor has repeatedly refused to talk to KATU News about his DUII's and whether Marquis or the city attorney should handle these cases.

City attorney Blair Henningsgaard was out of town and not available for comment Friday.

Marquis said he's hopeful Henningsgaard will respect the judge's ruling and turn over all drunken driving cases over to his office.

But Henningsgaard told The Daily Astorian he believes the judge's ruling still leaves the cases in the municipal court but with Marquis' office handling them. Marquis made it clear, since he has control of the cases now, he will move all cases to the state court where he is sure everyone will be treated equally.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Satire? Or too much "medicine"?

The Oregonian ran an on-line Op-Ed from a  marijuanaophile who claims that if weed were legalized the whole criminal justice would collapse. It's either heavy-handed satire or too much "medicine."

According to figures from the State Corrections Department about 7% of the 14,000 people in Oregon's prison are there for "drug" offenses. That's 980 people. That number isn't broken out by drug but, based on my 25 years experience practicing in four counties, my best guess is less than 15% of that 7% is for marijuana-related crimes. That's less than 147 people.

Measure 11 does NOT include any drug offenses, not even giving heroin to a minor, and Oregon judges are severely limited in their discretion by Sentencing Guidelines which prescribe a non-prison sentence for the vast majority of persons convicted of selling marijuana.

Fully 70% of Oregon inmates are in prison for "person" crimes -- crime involving violence directly against a victim. The burglary of a home, if someone is not home, is NOT considered a person crime.

State legalization of marijuana is meaningless unless the Feds reschedule the drug. If marijuana -- a substance marijuana mogul and advocate Paul Stanford refers to as "relatively non-addicting" -- were to be legalized by the FEDERAL government I would expect absolutely no real reduction in workload for my office or for the police or the drug team. Oregon's law enforcement officers mostly trip over marijuana cases.

One case I prosecuted a few years ago is typical. Someone with prior convictions and some sort of "medical marijuana card" greatly exceeding their plant limit and was growing in public view right next to a school. Parents of the school children complained.  Sheriff's deputies made not one, but two trips simply to warn the illegal grower to get back in compliance with the already-lenient regulations concerning "medical marijuana". When he refused he was convicted, but he did not go to prison.

The Op-Ed writer may be confusing Oregon law with the extremely harsh federal drug laws, which account for about 8% of all inmates nationally. He also apparently is unaware that Oregon abolished bail bondsmen 40 years ago and that law enforcement joined with civil liberties groups last year to oppose any attempt to re-establish a bail bonds system.

The narco-violence that exists primarily In Mexico and Central and South America is the result of those nations' abdication to drug lords who will run anything they can make money on.

The same distribution network is used for any of the drugs moved by the cartels -- heroin, meth and sometimes marijuana, although Mexican marijuana is rarely seen in the Pacific Northwest since it is so easy to grow and generally the THC content of local marijuana is much higher because of growers' expertise.

As I wrote in the Oregonian eight years ago, marijuana is a legitimate medicine for some people. Accordingly it should be re-classified as a schedule 2 drug that doctors can prescribe and pharmacies can disburse.

Oregonians have been rational about marijuana for decades. We were the first state (led by the Lane County District Attorney in 1973) to decriminalize possession into a non-crime. Oregonians are compassionate and wanted sick people to have access to the drug (and it IS a drug, not a holy sacrament or the answer to all the world's ills). Voters were told in 1998 that maybe 500 to 1000 people would qualify for medical marijuana cards. There are now more than 55,000 card-holders in Oregon. Fewer than 10% have the medical conditions that were discussed in the 1998 election.

Finally, ponder this. Anyone who thinks that legalizing marijuana will bring in boatloads of taxes needs to remember the nature of pot. It is a weed. It grows easily, almost anywhere. Unlike all the other intoxicants, legal and illegal (vodka, tobacco, oxycontin, heroin, cocaine, etc.) the production of marijuana can be carried out by any high school drop-out in their basement. Why would most people wanting to grow it submit to government regulation for something so simple to make?