Monday, November 17, 2014

Parole Board not the place to re-adjudicate guilt

The Parole Paradox
Should prisoners for whom there is strong evidence of innocence be required to admit guilt to be granted parole?

Parole Boards Shouldn’t Provide Incentives for Claims of Innocence
NOVEMBER 13, 2014

Joshua Marquis is the district attorney in Astoria, Ore., and co author of "Debating the Death Penalty."

We are approaching a point in our criminal justice system where even the guilty are regarded as innocent, and no one is responsible – unless there is absolutely, positively, 100-percent perfect DNA evidence available. And even then, well, there are always legal technicalities.

The justice system is a work in progress and not perfect. There are a tiny number of people who have been convicted and were in fact innocent. But a parole board, where virtually nothing about the case or the victims or the evidence is important, is not the place to re-adjudicate guilt.

Many decry the decades-long appeals convicted murderers get, but that is how the wrongly convicted get justice, not from a overly sympathetic parole board.

It’s not surprising then that more prison inmates smell freedom amid all this confusion. They read the news. They talk to one another. They know the trends. They know it’s now possible for even a guilty man to be cast as the victim – especially if the guilty man claims innocence.

"Truth in sentencing” laws have eliminated many parole boards. Parole hearings in Oregon are only for inmates sentenced before 1992. They generally limit the district attorney and the victim's representative to 15 minutes each to address the release of the man who profoundly affected the victim's life. The inmate and his representative can go on for hours.

Nothing changes for the victim no matter what the killer wants to tell the parole board. And when does the victim get parole? Likely, never. "Closure" is an elusive concept.

What’s troubling about the stories of murderers who insist on their innocence after pleading guilty 25 years ago, is how the stories turn those killers into celebrated victims who – unlike the dead victims – can give interviews and talk about their years in prison. It feeds the myth that our prisons are full of innocent men, when in fact our prisons are full of criminals who were finally caught.

The claim that so many are actually innocent is largely an urban legend, seriously undermined last week when the supposed innocence of Anthony Porter, a former Illinois death row inmate, fell apart.

At a murder trial, a defense attorney once asked jurors,"Is mercy earned or bestowed?" I argued that in order for mercy to be bestowed, it must be earned.

Read the Opinion on the NY Times website.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Court of Appeals issued its decision in the DUII case today. The summary is appended below.

The decision puts us pretty much right back where we were. No decision has been made about appealing the Court's decision. The state's District Attorneys meet twice a year and I expect this case to be discussed when we meet in three weeks.

The Court did make it clear this decision affects only Astoria and not any other city municipal courts, and also makes clear the DA has no obligation to appear in Municipal Court.

My office continues to believe there is a strong need for the City and the County to work together to insure that people are held accountable for conduct that endangers not only their lives, but the lives of everyone on the road.  My office has steadfastly maintained a dedication to this ideal and is the reason for seeking this opinion from the Court of Appeals.  

Astorians' best interests are served in Circuit Court, a full court of record, where the roles and responsibilities of the full-time professionals involved are clearly defined and do not change from day to day.

So, it remains up to the City to decide whether it wants to continue to spend money on prosecuting DUIIs in municipal court and, more importantly, where justice is best served for its citizens.


Clatsop County District Attorney v. City of Astoria

(Armstrong, P. J.)
The City of Astoria appeals a judgment declaring that the Clatsop County District Attorney has exclusive authority to control and direct the prosecution of misdemeanor driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) offenses committed within the City of Astoria. Both parties also appeal the trial court's declaration that the district attorney is required to attend and prosecute cases in Astoria Municipal Court.

Held: The trial court correctly denied the city's motion to dismiss the action on the ground that it failed to include the necessary parties under ORS 28.110. The text, history, and context of ORS 8.650, ORS 8.660, and ORS 221.229 establish concurrent jurisdiction in the municipal and circuit courts for prosecution of those offenses. 

Accordingly, the trial court erred in declaring that the district attorney had exclusive authority to direct and control those prosecutions. The court also erred in requiring the district attorney to attend and prosecute cases in the municipal court. Reversed in part and remanded with instructions to enter judgment omitting the declarations in paragraphs 4 and 5 and declaring the rights of the parties in accordance with this opinion; otherwise affirmed.