Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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The Oregon Governor issued executive orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. Because the virus spread through close personal contact and through the air, some of the orders have restricted the size of gatherings and required that people maintain specified distances between themselves and others. Relatedly, other orders have closed schools and businesses. The restrictions have had substantial consequences for individuals and entire economies. "It is unknown how long those consequences will last, just as it is unknown how long it will be before there is a cure or vaccine for COVID-19." Plaintiffs Elkhorn Baptist Church and several other churches and individual churchgoers, challenged the executive orders that the Governor issued, asking the circuit court to enjoin the enforcement of the Governor’s orders while their civil action was pending. They based their request on their claim that the orders have expired by operation of law. Among other things, they argued that the orders violated a statutory time limit. The circuit court issued the requested preliminary injunction. It did so based on its conclusion that, as plain- tiffs argued, the duration of the orders had exceeded a statutory time limit. The Governor sought mandamus relief from the Oregon Supreme Court to vacate the preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred in concluding that the Governor’s executive orders violated a statutory time limit as plaintiffs had argued. "The circuit court’s statutory analysis cannot be reconciled with the statutory text and context, and is directly at odds with how the legislature intended the statute to apply." Because the circuit court’s conclusion about the statutory time limit was fundamental to its issuance of the preliminary injunction, the Supreme Court deemed it necessary to vacate the preliminary injunction. View "Elkhorn Baptist Church v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Defendant Adrian Ulery was charged with two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, and he exercised his right to trial by jury. He did not object to the jury being instructed that it could return a nonunanimous guilty verdict; his list of requested jury instructions included the uniform criminal jury instruction for a verdict in a felony case, an instruction that, consistent with Oregon law, informed the jury that ten votes to convict, from a jury of twelve, were sufficient for a guilty verdict. The jury convicted defendant of both counts. At defendant’s request, the jury was polled, revealing that both verdicts were nonunanimous. The trial court, without objection from defendant, received the verdicts. Defendant appealed, assigning error to the jury having been instructed that it could return a nonunani- mous verdict and to the receipt of nonunanimous verdicts. Defendant acknowledged that he had not preserved the issue in the trial court, but he requested plain error review. In Ramos v. Louisiana, 140 S Ct 1390 (2020), the United States Supreme Court held that, contrary to longstanding practice in Oregon, the United States Constitution required “[a] jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.” After Ramos issued, the state, through a letter to the Oregon Supreme Court and a notice filed in this case, conceded that, because defendant’s convictions were based on nonunanimous verdicts, they could not be sustained in light of the Supreme Court’s holding in Ramos. The state also conceded that the issue would qualify as plain error under ORAP 5.45(1) and advised the Oregon Court that, if it were to exercise its discretion to correct the unpreserved error, the Court should reverse defendant’s convictions and remand for a new trial. The Oregon Supreme Court accepted the state’s concession, exercised its discretion to review the error, and reversed defendant’s convictions. View "Oregon v. Ulery" on Justia Law

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Defendant Olan Williams was charged with two counts of first-degree sodomy. The jury was instructed that it could return a nonunanimous guilty verdict. Defendant did not object. The jury acquitted defendant of one count and convicted him of the other. The trial court polled the jury, revealing that the guilty verdict was nonunanimous. The trial court received both verdicts without objection by defendant. After defendant was sentenced, he moved for a new trial, challenging Oregon’s nonunanimous jury law, as applied to him, on Equal Protection Clause grounds. In Ramos v. Louisiana, 140 S Ct 1390 (2020), the United States Supreme Court held that, contrary to longstanding practice in Oregon, the United States Constitution required “[a] jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.” Many Oregon convictions based on nonunanimous verdicts were on appeal in a variety of procedural postures. In this case, the state conceded that, notwithstanding problems with defendant’s presentation of the issue to the trial court and to the Court of Appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court should have reversed defendant’s conviction, so long as it exercised its discretion to consider the error. The Oregon Supreme Court exercised its discretion to consider the error and accepted the state’s concession. The petition for review was allowed, limited to the issue of the appropriate disposition of this case in light of Ramos v. Louisiana. The decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed. The judgment of the circuit court was also reversed, and the case was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Williams" on Justia Law

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After a grand jury issued an indictment charging defendant Hanad Ali Haji with multiple offenses, the district attorney determined that the indictment could be challenged by demurrer because the basis for joining those offenses was not expressly alleged. Instead of seeking another indictment from the grand jury, the district attorney obtained leave from the trial court to amend the indictment by adding allegations specifying the statutory basis for joinder, without adding factual allegations about the crimes. Defendant was convicted on some of the charges at trial, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on whether the district attorney could add allegations specifying the statutory basis for joinder of multiple offenses to an indictment instead of resubmitting the case to the grand jury. The Supreme Court determined that neither the statute permitting joinder of multiple offenses in a single indictment nor Article VII (Amended), section 5(6), of the Oregon Constitution precluded a district attorney, with approval of the trial court, from amending an indictment to add allegations specifying the statutory basis for joinder of multiple offenses. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, based in part on different reasoning, and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. View "Oregon v. Haji" on Justia Law

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In the November 2016 election, Multnomah County voters approved Measure 26-184, an amendment to the Multnomah County Home Rule Charter containing campaign finance provisions. Multnomah County then adopted new ordinances, Multnomah County Code (MCC) sections 5.200-203, mirroring and implementing those charter provisions. At issue before the Oregon Supreme Court was the validity of those ordinances under the free speech provisions of both the Oregon and United States Constitutions - Article I, section 8, and the First Amendment. The Court reached four conclusions: (1) the county’s contribution limits did not, on their face, violate Article I, section 8, of the Oregon Constitution; (2) the case had to be remanded for factual findings and to consider, in the first instance, whether the contribution limits violated the First Amendment; (3) the county’s expenditure limits were invalid under both constitutional provisions; and (4) the parties’ dispute with respect to the disclosure provisions was moot. View "Multnomah County v. Mehrwein" on Justia Law

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In consolidated ballot title review cases, petitioner Hurst and petitioners Van Dusen and Steele challenged the Oregon Attorney General’s certified ballot title for Initiative Petition 50 (2020) (IP 50). If adopted, IP 50 would amend ORS 468A.205, which set aspirational greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, including the goal of achieving greenhouse gas levels that were at least 75% below 1990 levels by the year 2050. ORS 468A.205(1)(c). The current statute also expressly provided that it did not create any additional regulatory authority for any agency of the executive department. IP 50 would amend ORS 468A.205 to mandate staged reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel and industrial sources (including achieving greenhouse gas emissions levels that are “at least 100 percent below 1990 levels” by 2050); to require the Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) to adopt rules to ensure compliance with the new greenhouse gas emissions limits; and to require the Department of Environmental Quality to enforce the rules that the EQC adopts. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that certain of petitioner Hurst’s arguments that the ballot title did not substantially comply with ORS 250.035(2) were well taken, and thus the Court referred the ballot title to the Attorney General for modification. View "Hurst/Van Dusen v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case is evidence discovered in a purse during an inventory of an impounded vehicle. A Hillsboro police officer observed defendant Tamara Fulmer driving a vehicle with expired registration tags. The officer initiated a stop, and defendant pulled over. The officer approached defendant and informed her of the reason for the stop. Defendant admitted not only that her registration tags were expired, but also that her driver’s license had expired and that she did not have insurance. The officer returned to the patrol vehicle, confirmed the information that defendant had given, and began writing a citation. The officer determined that defendant’s vehicle would need to be towed and impounded, as defendant could not legally drive it without a license or insurance, and it was blocking a bicycle lane. The officer called a second officer to assist. The first officer informed defendant that he would need to do an inventory of defendant's vehicle and told her to step out of the vehicle so the second officer could begin that process. Defendant exited the vehicle with her cell phone and a pack of cigarettes in her hand, but her purse remained on the passenger’s seat. Defendant neither asked to nor was told that she could remove additional items from the car. She stood near the patrol vehicle while the inventory took place. The second officer began the inventory by looking in defendant’s purse. In a wallet inside defendant’s purse, the officer found used syringes and a small amount of methamphetamine. Defendant was charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine. She moved to suppress the evidence found in her purse, arguing that the officers had unlawfully searched her purse. She acknowledged that, the Oregon Supreme Court previously recognized an inventory exception to the warrant requirement, but she asserted that the exception did not apply because the officers had not told her that she could remove her purse from her car. The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress, determining that “the inventory search was valid and it was lawfully followed through [the] policy that’s been implemented by the City of Hillsboro.” The trial court also determined that the officers were not required to ask defendant if she wanted to take her purse with her before conducting the inventory. The Supreme Court concluded after review of the trial court record that the application of the inventory exception in this case violated defendant’s rights under Article I, section 9. The trial court therefore erred in denying her pretrial motion to suppress, and the resulting judgment of conviction had to be reversed. View "Oregon v. Fulmer" on Justia Law

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This interlocutory appeal involves the “unavailability as a witness” requirement under Oregon Evidence Code (OEC) 804(1), for purposes of applying an exception to the hearsay rule in a criminal case. The State served a subpoena on a key witness to testify against defendant Chad Iseli and made other efforts to ensure her attendance at trial, but she did not attend. The State therefore moved to introduce her earlier out-of- court statements under the “forfeiture-by-wrongdoing” exception to the hearsay rule, OEC 804(3)(g). The trial court found that the State had made substantial efforts to secure the witness’s attendance and that she had expressed safety concerns about testifying. It also found, in relation to the forfeiture-by-wrongdoing exception, that defendant had engaged in intentional, wrongful conduct that had caused her absence. The court further determined, however, that the State had not established that the witness was unavailable because it had not sought a material witness warrant or a remedial contempt order. The court therefore denied the state’s motion to admit her earlier statements. The State appealed that ruling, and the Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that, particularly in light of defendant’s intentional, wrongful conduct, the State had satisfied the “process or other reasonable means” requirement of OEC 804(1)(e), thereby establishing that the witness was unavailable. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed, finding that while the trial court was incorrect to view certain facts as categorically irrelevant to the “unavailability as a witness” determination under OEC 804(1)(e). "Ultimately, though, when we add those facts to the calculus, we again conclude that the trial court’s ultimate ruling - that the state did not satisfy the “other reasonable means” component and, therefore, did not establish that the victim was unavailable - was correct. View "Oregon v. Iseli" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Pedro Martinez was ‘playing with’ a gun, and asked the victim for his wallet. The victim refused. Petitioner then asked the victim to get out of his car, and the victim refused that request, too, saying "you ain’t getting my wallet and you ain’t getting my car." Petitioner said, "Well, then I’m going to have to shoot you." As the victim tried to drive away, petitioner did just that: shooting the victim once in the arm. The victim testified that his car already was moving when petitioner fired; the victim believed it was possible that the car bumped petitioner’s hand, causing him to lose some control of the gun when he pulled the trigger. The victim drove the short distance to his home and called 9-1-1. He was transported to a hospital. A doctor who treated the victim testified that the bullet broke the victim’s arm and fragments traveled to his chest, coming within inches of multiple blood vessels. Petitioner was indicted on several counts, though the only counts relevant here charged petitioner with first-degree robbery and attempted aggravated felony murder. He sought post-conviction relief, contending that his counsel had been constitutionally inadequate by failing to argue that those crimes should be merged. The post-conviction court granted summary judgment against petitioner, concluding that he had not been prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to object, because as a matter of law the sentences would not merge. A majority of the Court of Appeals panel affirmed, On review, the presented to the Oregon Supreme Court was whether petitioner’s convictions should have been merged under ORS 161.067(1). The Court concluded they should have, reversed the trial and appellate courts, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Martinez v. Cain" on Justia Law

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The state charged defendant Joshua Andrews with two crimes: one count of fourth- degree assault, and one count of harassment. At trial, the state presented evidence that defendant drove to the victim’s place of work, began yelling at him, spat on him, and punched him in the face, knocking out his tooth bridge. The jury acquitted defendant on the assault charge but convicted him of harassment. Post-trial, the state asked the court to impose restitution for the cost of replacing the victim’s tooth bridge. Defendant objected, arguing that the trial court did not have statutory authority to do so. Defendant unsuccessfully argued that restitution was permitted only when a trial court could conclude, from the defendant’s conviction, that the defendant engaged in the criminal act that formed the basis for the award of restitution, and that, in this case, the trial court could not reach that conclusion: the act that formed the basis for the victim’s damages was the punch, and the jury could have convicted defendant of harassment without finding that defendant had punched the victim. Defendant appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Oregon Supreme Court allowed defendant’s petition for review, and, because it concluded the trial court could not award restitution under ORS 137.106, it reversed. View "Oregon v. Andrews" on Justia Law