Criminal Justice

“[L]awyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries. The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours.”
-- Justice Hugo Black,
Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963

The rights guaranteed to individuals under suspicion, criminal defendants, and prisoners are fundamental rights that protect all Americans from governmental abuse of power. These rights include the guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure, the right to reasonable bail, the right against self incrimination, the right to counsel, the right to be acquitted unless the government can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to a jury of one’s peers and the right to be free from cruel and unusual treatment.

These protections were included in our federal and state constitutions in order to protect innocent persons who may be wrongfully suspected or accused of a crime. The framers understood that it is more important for the government to follow the rule of law than it is to obtain a guilty verdict in every case.

Litigation

Only Two States Allow Non-Unanimous Juries to Deliver Felony Convictions: Oregon and Louisiana

By Mat dos Santos, Legal Director

court exhibit of 1932 newspaper article that talks about a "mixed-blood jury"December 15, 2016 - UPDATE: Today, Multnomah County Circuit Court denied Olan Williams a new trial in his challenge of the non-unanimous jury verdict returned in his felony criminal case.

We filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case challenging the law for violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. While the court ultimately denied Williams’ request for a new trial, the ruling goes to great length to explain the racist past of Oregon’s history generally, as well as concluding that race and ethnicity were motivating factors in the passage of Oregon’s non-unanimous jury law and that “the measure was intended, at least in part, to dampen the influence of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities on Oregon juries.” 

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ACLU Sues Oregon Department of Corrections Over Denial of Medical Care to Transgender Prisoner

Lawsuit highlights relentless suffering of transgender prisoner and demands medically-necessary care for all transgender prisoners

 October 17, 2016 - The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon (ACLU of Oregon) filed a lawsuit today in federal court against the officials at the Oregon Department of Corrections on behalf of a transgender prisoner who is being denied essential medical care. The suit, on behalf of Michelle Wright, a transgender woman who is currently housed at Two Rivers Correctional Facility, argues that it is cruel and unusual to deny medically-necessary care to prisoners. Michelle Wright in prison

“The Oregon Department of Corrections is denying our client lifesaving care,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon. 

Wright, age 25, felt a deep disconnect between the gender she was assigned at birth and her female gender since childhood. Although she identified as transgender, she was unable to begin hormone therapy prior to her incarceration. According to the complaint, Wright has been denied medical care despite submitting nearly 100 requests. Facing repeated denials of care, she has attempted suicide multiple times and, on three occasions, attempted to castrate herself. 

“At this point, I’m afraid I will lose her forever,” said an emotional Victoria Wright, mother of the plaintiff. “She should be held accountable for her mistakes, but I’m worried she is being damaged in prison in a way that might not be fixable.”

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Legislation

Defelonize Drug Possession - HB 2355

The War on Drugs has failed. We have a chance right now to take a smarter approach in Oregon, by passing HB 2355, to defelonize small-scale drug possession. 

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Thinking Outside the Box

Past criminal history shouldn’t limit job opportunitiesEmployment app

We strongly support the "Ban the Box" bill - HB 3025 , which helps to remove roadblocks to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals. This bill would prevent employers from asking prospective employees about past criminal histories on job applications until after a conditional offer of employment is made.

After serving their debt to society, many ex-offenders are denied the opportunity to work based solely on their conviction. This makes it difficult if not impossible for individuals with a criminal record to re-enter society successfully and be able to earn a living. With a criminal justice system that is dominated by racial disparities, people of color are disproportionately harmed by employers’ criminal background check procedures.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), more than 650,000 individuals are released from prison every year. One of the key elements they identified for successful re-entry into our communities is helping these individuals find and keep a job. If ex-offenders are to succeed as law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, they must have a chance at finding employment – particularly in this tough economic climate.

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Other

ACLU Report Reveals Oregon Cities and Counties Target Homeless

Proposed “Right to Rest” Legislation Addresses Overcriminalization, Extends Privacy Rights to Oregon’s Homeless

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 5, 2017

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Report: Decriminalizing Homelessness in Oregon

sign reads: Everyone has the right to rest

Take Action: Tell your Oregon legislators you support the Right to Rest Act, HB 2215.

April 5, 2017 - Oregon cities and counties are making it a crime for people to be homeless. Our new report, Decriminalizing Homelessness: Why Right to Rest Legislation is the High Road for Oregon, shows that basic acts of survival are being criminalized all across the state. 

Our research found that Oreogn's most populous cities and counties have 224 laws that criminalize necessary life-sustaining activities like sitting, lying, resting, or eating in public. When someone has nowhere else to do these things, fines, fees, and a criminal record only further entrenches them in homelessness. Oregonians living on the street are forced make impossible choices to go about their daily lives.

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