Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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Defendant Zachary Carlisle challenged his conviction for misdemeanor third-degree sexual abuse, which required the state to prove that he “subject[ed] another person to sexual contact” and that “[t]he victim d[id] not consent to the sexual contact.” The question this case raised for the Oregon Supreme Court's review was which culpable mental state applied to the “victim does not consent” element of the offense. The trial court instructed the jury that the State needed to prove that defendant “knowingly” subjected the victim to sexual contact and that defendant was “criminally negligent” with respect to the fact that the victim did not consent to the sexual contact. According to defendant, the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury that both elements required proof of a “knowing” mental state. The Supreme Court concluded, however, that the legislature did not intend that a conviction under ORS 163.415 would require proof that the defendant knew that the victim did not consent to the sexual contact. Accordingly, the trial court did not err, and defendant's convictions were affirmed. View "Oregon v. Carlisle" on Justia Law

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Relator Randy Gray was the defendant charged in 2021 by a district attorney’s information with (among other things) the felony of assaulting a public safety officer. Shortly after the information was filed, relator’s defense counsel notified the district attorney that relator intended to appear as a witness before the expected grand jury proceeding. In addition to giving notice that relator would exercise his statutory right to appear, relator’s counsel later emailed the district attorney, expressing relator’s desire to have his counsel present in the grand jury room and asserting that he had a right to the presence of counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The district attorney did not agree to counsel being in the grand jury room. A trial court denied relator’s motion, ruling that relator’s exercise of his statutory right to appear before the grand jury did not entitle him to have his counsel present in the room with him, but that counsel could wait outside and be available for consultation. Relator then filed this proceeding, seeking a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to grant his motion. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded on the facts presented here, Article I, section 11, of the Oregon Constitution entitled relator to have his counsel present in the grand jury room during his testimony. View "Oregon v. Gray" on Justia Law

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After receiving a report that defendant John Benson sexually assaulted B, police launched an investigation that was subsequently halted. Seven and a half years later, after the case was rediscovered during an “open case” search, a grand jury indicted defendant for first-degree rape, second-degree sexual abuse, and attempted first-degree sexual abuse. Prior to a bench trial, defendant moved to dismiss on grounds of preindictment delay. The trial court denied that motion, and defendant was found guilty on all charges. On appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, defendant argued his due process rights were violated as a result of the preindictment delay. The Supreme Court rejected defendant’s claim of error and, accordingly, affirmed his convictions. View "Oregon v. Benson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff’s libel per se claim was based on a Google review, written by the manager of plaintiff’s business competitor, that subsequently was removed from the internet without a trace. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment to defendants. The issues this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court were: (1) whether plaintiff could reach a jury on his libel claim when the text was no longer available; (2) whether the First Amendment’s public comment defense was available in these circumstances and, relatedly, whether a defendant speaker’s identity or motive was part of the court’s inquiry on the defense’s availability; and (3) whether Oregon should require a plaintiff claiming defamation to prove that the defendant acted with a heightened culpable mental state, “actual malice,” in all cases when the speech was on a “matter of public concern” protected under the First Amendment, abolishing the distinction that requires such proof only when the defendant is a member of the media. The Court of Appeals concluded the trial court had erred because plaintiff’s evidence of the allegedly defamatory statements sufficed to create a question of fact for trial on his claim and the lack of the review’s printed text did not affect the analysis of defendants’ First Amendment defense. The Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court's conclusion that the lack of a copy of the review was not fatal to plaintiff’s libel claim and that two of the three allegedly defamatory statements in the review were actionable. The Court thus affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals in part and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Lowell v. Wright" on Justia Law

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Two groups of petitioners challenged the ballot title that the Oregon Attorney General certified for Initiative Petition 41 (2022) (IP 41). IP 41 would add a new section 16 to Article IX of the Oregon Constitution, which would specify that a “public body may not assess a toll” on any part of an Oregon “highway” unless approved by the voters of nearby counties. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that petitioners identified two ways in which the ballot title failed to substantially comply with the statutory requirements. Accordingly, the Court referred the ballot title to the Attorney General for modification. View "Salsgiver/Iannarone v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law

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Defendant Lamar Stanton was charged with three counts of first-degree sexual abuse and two counts of first-degree sodomy. Because defendant was indigent, the trial court appointed counsel to represent him. Over the course of the trial court proceedings, defendant was represented by several different court-appointed lawyers. Defendant expressed frustration with his last-appointed counsel, Lee-Mandlin, and asked her to move to withdraw. Lee-Mandlin filed two motions to withdraw but told the trial court that she was prepared to represent defendant. The court denied the motions, and, after defendant was evaluated at the state hospital and the trial court determined that he was able to aid and assist in his defense, and the case proceeded to a bench trial. The trial court entered a judgment of conviction and sentence, and defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred by proceeding as if defendant had waived his right to court-appointed counsel. The Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. The Oregon Supreme Court found three motions had been presented with respect to defendant’s representation, and that the trial court should have addressed the three motions separately because they presented different legal questions. Because the trial court did not expressly address these questions, the Supreme Court surmised the trial court could not have concluded defendant expressly waived his right to court-appointed counsel. Consequently, in the context of the multiple pending motions, the trial court’s question to defendant about whether he wanted Lee-Mandlin to withdraw was too ambiguous for defendant’s answer to constitute an intentional relinquishment of his right to court-appointed counsel. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Stanton" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jonathan Rusen challenged the trial court’s imposition of consecutive terms of incarceration upon revoking defendant’s probation. Defendant was serving the sentence of probation pursuant to a plea agreement and had stipulated that, if the court revoked his probation, the court could impose consecutive terms of incarceration as sanctions. Defendant had reserved the right, however, to argue that any probation revocation sanctions should be run concurrently. The Court of Appeals concluded that defendant’s challenge to the revocation sanction was reviewable and, on the merits, that the trial court lacked authority in this case to impose consecutive terms of incarceration following revocation of defendant’s probation. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the legislature did not intend ORS 138.105(9) to bar review of challenges to “part of a sentence” when the parties reserved the right to make competing arguments regarding what the court should decide with respect to that part of the sentence. Accordingly, defendant’s challenge to the court’s decision to impose consecutive terms of incarceration was reviewable. On the merits, the Supreme Court concluded that ORS 137.123(2) applied to initial sentencing and, therefore, was compatible with OAR 213-012-0040(2)(a), which applied when a court revokes probation. View "Oregon v. Rusen" on Justia Law

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This case involved the State’s direct and interlocutory appeal of an omnibus pretrial order granting numerous defense motions to suppress evidence that the State obtained through wiretaps and search warrants. Defendant Langston Harris was charged with first-degree and second-degree murder, first-degree robbery, promoting prostitution, and other crimes. The murder charges arose from the death of RBH, who was shot outside of his apartment building in the early morning hours of September 20, 2017. The trial court ruled: (1) the wiretaps violated federal law because the applications did not indicate that the elected district attorney personally was even aware of the applications, and (2) roughly two dozen search warrants for cell phone data and social media accounts were invalid for multiple reasons, including that the warrants were overbroad and that, after excising from later warrant applications all information derived from the invalid earlier warrant(s), the State lacked probable cause to support the later warrants. After careful consideration of the trial court record, the Oregon Supreme Court concurred and affirmed those rulings of the trial court. View "Oregon v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Defendant Mark Bartlett requested the City of Portland to release three city attorney opinions and one legal memorandum. The parties agreed that the documents were public records, were within the scope of the attorney-client privilege, and were more than 25 years old. The city declined to release the documents, arguing that they were exempt from the public records law because of the attorney-client privilege. The specific question presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s consideration in this case was whether the four documents that were prepared more than 25 years ago by the Portland City Attorney for the mayor and two city commissioners and that were subject to the attorney-client privilege had to be disclosed under ORS 192.390. The Court concluded those documents had to be disclosed. View "City of Portland v. Bartlett" on Justia Law

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During a single criminal episode, defendant Scott Kyger cut the necks of two people with a razor blade. For that conduct, the State charged him with, and he was convicted on two counts of attempted aggravated murder under ORS 163.095 (2015) and ORS 161.405 (2015). The question presented for the Oregon Supreme Court in this this case was whether the State charged a viable theory of attempted aggravated murder. Defendant contended that the existence of “more than one murder victim” was a circumstance that had to exist for a person to be guilty of aggravated murder; that it did not exist here because neither victim died; and that defendant’s intentional conduct did not amount to attempted aggravated murder because a person cannot “attempt” to commit a circumstance element of an offense. In defendant’s view, the allegations supported, at most, charges for attempted murder. The trial court and the Court of Appeals disagreed with defendant. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Oregon v. Kyger" on Justia Law