Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
by
Petitioner Julie Parrish challenged the Attorney General’s certified ballot title for Initiative Petition 13 (2020) (IP 13). Intervenor Uherbelau intervened generally in support of the Attorney General’s certified ballot title. If adopted, IP 13 would amend Article IX of the Oregon Constitution to add a new section, section 16. Subsection 16(1) would require the State Treasurer to “calculate the unfunded actuarial liability of any public employee retirement program or system as of December 31, 2022.” The Oregon Supreme Court reviewed the ballot title for substantial compliance with ORS 250.035(2). After review, the Supreme Court concluded the ballot title for IP 13 did not substantially comply with ORS 250.035(2) in several respects, and therefore referred it to the Attorney General for modification. View "Parrish v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

by
Police Officer Hopkins initiated a traffic stop of defendant Khalistan Harrison. As Hopkins approached defendant’s stopped vehicle, defendant stepped out of the car, left the driver’s side door open, and began walking away. Hopkins followed her on foot. Meanwhile, Officer Barrett arrived at the scene. In observing the open driver’s side door, Barrett saw the upper handle and cylinder of a handgun tucked barrel-down in the door’s interior pocket, which was located below the window and armrest and lower than the level of the driver’s seat. According to testimony from Hopkins, the handgun would have been readily accessible to the driver and not visible “when the door was closed when there was a driver in the driver’s seat and the vehicle was traveling down the road.” Defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. At trial, defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal (MJOA), arguing that the handgun was not “concealed” within the meaning of the statute. The trial court denied that motion. Defendant also requested that the trial court give a special jury instruction concerning the definition of “concealed.” The trial court declined to issue defendant’s requested instruction and gave a different instruction, which will be discussed below. Defendant was convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Oregon Supreme Court determined a handgun is “concealed” in a vehicle if the placement of the gun would fail to give reasonable notice of the gun’s presence, through ordinary observation, to a person actually coming into contact with the occupants of the vehicle, and communicating in a manner typical of such contact, such as through an open window. The Court determined the gun in this case was sufficiently “concealed” to support defendant’s conviction. View "Oregon v. Harrison" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Shannon Carpenter was charged with hindering prosecution through concealment under ORS 162.325(1)(a). The State contended defendant had concealed a person for whom police had an arrest warrant. The State alleged defendant concealed that wanted person through allegedly deceptive statements about knowing the party or his whereabouts. The State also charged defendant with possession of a Schedule II controlled substance. Defendant appealed when the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction for hindering prosecution. The issue presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's consideration centered on whether defendant “concealed” a person for whom a felony arrest warrant had been issued when, upon questioning by a police detective, defendant falsely denied knowing or associating with the wanted person. In response to defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal on the charge of hindering prosecution, the trial court concluded that defendant’s denials amounted to concealing the wanted person’s whereabouts, and it therefore denied defendant’s motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court concluded that, in requiring proof of “conceal[ing]” another person, ORS 162.325(1)(a) required the State to prove that defendant had hidden the wanted person from ordinary observation. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the state’s evidence - defendant’s false denials of knowledge - did not satisfy that requirement. Conviction was reversed and the matter remanded to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs sought a declaration that the City of Lake Oswego had allow them recreational access to Oswego Lake, either from the shoreline of the city’s waterfront parks (from which the city prohibits all water access) or through the city’s residents-only swim park. According to plaintiffs, the common-law doctrines of public trust and public use protected the public’s right to enter the lake, and the city’s restrictions on access to the lake were contrary to those common-law doctrines. Plaintiffs also contended the city’s restrictions violated the Equal Privileges and Immunities guarantee of the Oregon Constitution. Defendants were the City of Lake Oswego the State of Oregon, and the Lake Oswego Corporation (which held title to riparian rights to the lake). The case reached the Oregon Supreme Court following a summary judgment in which the trial court assumed that the lake was among public waterways to which the doctrine of public trust or public use applied, but held that neither those doctrines nor Article I, section 20, entitled plaintiffs to the declarations they sought. The Court of Appeals affirmed, also without deciding whether the lake was a public waterway. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court correctly granted summary judgment on plaintiffs’ Article I, section 20, challenges. The Court also concluded that neither the public trust nor the public use doctrine granted plaintiffs a right to enter the swim park property and that the public use doctrine did not grant plaintiffs a right to access the water from the waterfront parks. But the Court concluded that, if Oswego Lake was among the navigable waterways that the state held in trust for the public, then neither the state nor the city could unreasonably interfere with the public’s right to enter the water from the abutting waterfront parks. Accordingly, the case was remanded for resolution of the preliminary question of whether the lake was subject to the public trust doctrine and, if the lake was subject to that trust, then for resolution of the factual dispute regarding whether the city’s restriction on entering the lake from the waterfront parks unreasonably interfered with the public’s right to enter the lake from the abutting waterfront parks. View "Kramer v. City of Lake Oswego" on Justia Law

by
The State charged defendant Viktor Gensitskiy with one count of aggravated identity theft, based on his possession of files containing personal information regarding 27 other persons. Based on that same conduct, the State also charged defendant with 27 counts of identity theft. Defendant pleaded guilty to all the counts, but argued that his identity thefts merged into his aggravated identity theft because each of the identity thefts was a lesser-included offense of the aggravated identity theft. The trial court rejected defendant’s argument and entered separate convictions for each of the identity thefts and the aggravated identity theft. Defendant appealed, renewing his argument that his identity thefts merged into his aggravated identity theft because each of his identity thefts was a lesser-included offense of his aggravated identity theft. The State did not dispute that each of defendant’s identity thefts was a lesser-included offense of his aggravated identity theft, but argued that, because there were 27 victims, the trial court could impose 27 separate convictions. The Court of Appeals concurred with the state. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in failing to merge defendant’s multiple identity thefts into his aggravated identity theft. View "Oregon v. Gensitskiy" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Steven Toth was the manager of a strip club in the Beaverton area. Victor Moreno-Hernandez brought S, a thirteen-year-old girl, to defendant’s strip club, where defendant and Moreno-Hernandez agreed that S would work at the club. While working at the strip club, S engaged in prostitution and the two men split the proceeds. In addition, defendant had sex with S. Ultimately, S was brought into the legal custody of the Department of Human Services (DHS). Defendant pleaded guilty to three counts relating to S: second-degree sodomy, first-degree sexual abuse, and compelling prostitution. He also pleaded guilty to a separate promoting prostitution charge that did not involve S. At sentencing, the trial court indicated that it was interested in imposing a compensatory fine and inquired into whether that was an available option in this case. The prosecutor stated that S's psychological counseling while in DHS custody resulted in economic damages; the trial court sentenced defendant to pay $150,000 as a compensatory fine for S's care. He appealed the imposition of the fine. The Court of Appeals reasoned that because “‘[t]he record contains no evidence that [the victim] ever incurred any objectively verifiable economic obligation for the treatment and, therefore, ever suffered any economic damages as a result of defendant’s crimes’” a remand was unnecessary. The Oregon Supreme Court concurred the trial court erred in imposing the compensatory fine, but concluded the matter was appropriate for remand to the trial court: "[w]e do not decide here whether a compensatory fine directed to DHS would be appropriate on this record, but it is an option for the trial court to consider on remand." View "Oregon v. Toth" on Justia Law

by
In 2012, defendant Victor Moreno-Hernandez, an adult man, met S, a thirteen-year-old girl. S moved in with defendant, and he had sex with her multiple times. He also supplied her with methamphetamine. Defendant introduced S to his eventual codefendant, Steven Toth, the manager of a strip club. Defendant and Toth agreed to have S work in the strip club, where she performed nude for customers and engaged in sexual acts with Toth and some of the club’s customers. Toth was paid for those acts of prostitution, and he split the proceeds with defendant. S ultimately left defendant and came into the legal custody of the Department of Human Services (DHS). After an investigation by law enforcement, defendant was charged with multiple crimes relating to his rape and sexual abuse of S. Defendant was convicted of two counts of second-degree rape, two counts of second-degree sodomy, two counts of second-degree unlawful sexual penetration, two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, one count of unlawful delivery of methamphetamine to a minor, and four counts of compelling prostitution. The trial court indicated that it was interested in imposing compensatory fines, as allowed by ORS 137.101(1), on those three compelling prostitution convictions. The issue defendant’s appeal raised for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the trial court properly sentenced defendant to pay three $50,000 compensatory fines. The Court arrived at the same outcome as the Court of Appeals- that it was error to impose the fine. However, in the Supreme Court’s view, “the legal error and the uncertainty as to what the trial court would have done had it approached sentencing as ORS 137.101 intended are reasons to remand.” The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Moreno-Hernandez" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Michael Sperou was charged with first-degree unlawful penetration for alleged crimes committed against a girl (“SC”) who belonged to the church defendant led as pastor. Before trial, the State disclosed it would call SC and six other women as witnesses, all whom would testify as to having been sexually abused by defendant years earlier while they were young girls attending his church. Defendant denied any abuse occurred, and moved to preclude the witnesses’ testimony. He also moved to prohibit the use of “victim” at trial to describe SC or the other accusers. The trial court denied both motions; defendant was convicted on all charges. On appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, defendant argued the trial court erred in denying his motions. The Supreme Court concluded that while the trial court did not err in refusing to categorically prohibit the prosecutor from referring to SC as a “victim,” use of the term by the other accusers would amount to impermissible vouching, and the trial court should have granted defendant’s motion to preclude such references. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court’s error in that regard was not harmless, and required a remand. View "Oregon v. Sperou" on Justia Law

by
The Oregon Supreme Court considered three separate petitions that challenged the Oregon Attorney General’s ballot title for Initiative Petition 5 (2020). IP 5 would repeal and replace a provision in the Oregon Constitution, Article IV, section 6, that addressed reapportionment of the state’s legislative districts, after each decennial census, the take into account changes in the changes in the distribution of the state’s population. The Supreme Court determined the ballot title did not substantially comply with ORS 250.035(2), and referred the ballot title back to the Attorney General for modification. View "Fletchall v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Jorge Gutierrez-Medina was driving under the influence of intoxicants late at night when he struck another person who had walked onto the road in a dark area not marked for pedestrians. Defendant pled guilty to one count DUI, and one count of third-degree assault, but resisted the State’s request that he pay restitution for the victim’s full medical bills. Defendant urged the trial court to apply the civil doctrine of comparative fault to reduce the amount of restitution. The trial court refused defendant’s request and ordered him to pay the State’s requested restitution. The Oregon Supreme Court concurred with the outcome of the Court of Appeals’ review, only on different grounds. The Supreme Court concluded defendant’s conviction for third-degree assault established he was aware he was using a deadly or dangerous weapon in a manner that created a substantial risk of serious harm, and he consciously disregarded that risk. Therefore, defendant’s assault conviction established he acted with a culpable mental state for which comparative fault would not be available in a civil action. The Supreme Court also declined to address the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that ORS 137.106 precluded trial courts from reducing the amount of restitution when the victim was partly to blame for his injury. View "Oregon v. Gutierrez-Medina" on Justia Law