Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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The primary question this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review was whether a defective waiver of a preliminary hearing deprived a circuit court of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals accordingly considered defendant’s unpreserved challenge to his waiver, found the waiver defective, and reversed his conviction. The Supreme Court allowed the state’s petition for review to consider whether a defective waiver of a preliminary hearing was a jurisdictional defect. The Court held that Huffman v. Alexander, 251 P2d 87 (1952) stood for a more limited proposition than defendant perceived, and that the state constitutional provision on which he relied did not establish that a defective waiver of a preliminary hearing deprived a circuit court of subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court accordingly reversed the Court of Appeals decision and remanded this case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Keys" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the trial court erred by ruling that defendant Damon Naudain, a Black man, could not pursue a line of questioning on cross-examination that was intended to show that the witness was racially biased against Black people. Defendant sought to ask about the witness’s relationship with the victim, who was the witness’s fiancée at the time and with whom the witness had a child and shared a home. Specifically, defendant wanted to ask questions that touched on the victim’s racial prejudices and refusal to allow Black people in the home that the couple shared. The trial court granted the state’s motion in limine to prevent such questioning, ruling that information about the victim’s racial bias was not probative of the witness’s own bias and, to the extent it had any relevance, it was unfairly prejudicial and inadmissible under OEC 403. Defendant was convicted and appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court erred in its ruling on the evidentiary issue because defendant’s proffered evidence of bias was relevant and not unfairly prejudicial. Concurring with the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court, and remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Naudain" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Michael Evans raised a claim for inadequate assistance of counsel based on the performance of his appellate counsel, who had represented him in his direct appeal of multiple sexual-assault convictions. The post-conviction court denied that claim, concluding both that counsel had not acted unreasonably and that no evidence showed that petitioner had suffered any prejudice. Petitioner appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, but on different grounds than those at issue before the post-conviction court or raised by the parties in their briefing on appeal. The Oregon Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals, in effect, affirmed the post-conviction court’s judgment by invoking the “right for the wrong reason” principle. In Outdoor Media Dimensions Inc. v. Oregon, 20 P3d 180 (2001), the Supreme Court explained that an appellate court may affirm a lower court based on that principle, but only if certain conditions are met. One condition was that, if the question was not purely one of law, then the record had to “materially be the same one that would have been developed had the prevailing party raised the alternative basis for affirmance below.” Perhaps even more significantly for the Supreme Court: neither party had any opportunity to develop an argument regarding the appropriateness of the evidentiary burden that the Court of Appeals described. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals decision and remanded to that court, to resolve the issue framed by the parties. View "Evans v. Nooth" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff James De Young was a city councilor and resident of the City of Damascus, Oregon. Defendants were Kate Brown, in her official capacity as Governor, and the State of Oregon. In De Young I, the Court of Appeals considered the validity of an effort to disincorporate the City of Damascus: in a 2013 election, the residents of the city had voted on a referral from the city council to disincorporate the city. Although a majority of those participating in the election voted in favor of disincorporating, the number fell short of the absolute majority for disincorporation required by law. In 2015, the Oregon legislature passed House Bill (HB) 3085, which referred to the decision whether to disincorporate, and specifically provided that a majority of those voting, rather than an absolute majority of the city’s electors, would be sufficient to disincorporate. Prior to the 2016 election, plaintiff sought to enjoin the scheduled disincorporation vote, alleging HB 3085 violated the city charter, state statutes, and the Oregon Constitution. The trial court denied plaintiff’s request to enjoin the election, and the city residents voted to disincorporate. Following the election, the city paid its debts, transferred its assets to Clackamas County, surrendered its charter, terminated or transferred its employees, and, essentially, ceased to exist. Plaintiff continued his lawsuit, seeking a declaration that the vote had violated various statutory and constitutional requirements and, therefore, the city had not been validly disincorporated. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the State, declaring “Measure 93” valid. The Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with plaintiff on his statutory argument, holding that ORS 221.610 and ORS 221.621 (2013) provided the only means by which a city could disincorporate and that, because Measure 93 had not complied with those statutes, it was invalid. Shortly after the Court of Appeals decision was issued, the legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 226 (2019) “to cure any defect in the procedures, and to ratify the results” of the 2016 disincorporation vote. Following the Court of Appeals’ decision in De Young I but prior to the issuance of the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision in City of Damascus, plaintiff petitioned for an award of attorney fees and costs in De Young I. Applying the “substantial benefit” theory, the Court of Appeals allowed plaintiff’s petition for attorney fees, and remanded for a determination of fees and costs incurred in the circuit court. The State appealed. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals did not err in awarding plaintiff fees under the substantial benefit theory. View "De Young v. Brown" on Justia Law

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In 2019, the state charged defendant Michael Wolfe with aggravated murder as that crime was then defined. Later in 2019, the legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1013, narrowing the definition of aggravated murder, and amending the statute governing death penalty sentences. The State filed an amended indictment charging defendant with aggravated murder as redefined by SB 1013. Defendant sought dismissal of the aggravated murder charge based on the ex post facto clauses of the Oregon and United States Constitutions. The trial court granted defendant’s motion, and the State filed a direct, interlocutory appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred; reversed the order of dismissal and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Wolfe" on Justia Law

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The Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, and the President of the Oregon State Senate, on behalf of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, informed the Oregon Supreme Court that the federal government would not meet its statutory deadline to produce federal decennial census data and, therefore, that neither the Legislative Assembly nor the Oregon Secretary of State (Secretary) would be able to meet the deadlines for decennial reapportionment of state legislative districts set out in Article IV, section 6, of the Oregon Constitution. Relators asked the Supreme Court to exercise its authority under Article VII (Amended), section 2, of the Oregon Constitution and issue a writ of mandamus requiring the Secretary to fulfill her constitutionally specified duties, and to do so on dates ordered by the court. Relators served their petition for writ of mandamus on the Secretary, and she appeared in opposition. The Court elected to exercise that authority to compel compliance with Article IV, section 6, according to a revised schedule set out in an appendix to its opinion in this case. The Court thus issued a peremptory writ to direct the Secretary to abide by that schedule. View "Oregon ex rel Kotek v. Fagan" on Justia Law

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Defendant Talon Ramoz was charged with two counts of first-degree rape and two counts of first-degree unlawful sexual penetration. When it came time to instruct the jury on those charges, defendant and the state both requested instructions that they expected would correspond to those set out in the Uniform Criminal Jury Instructions. The final jury instructions did not, however, correspond with those instructions; instead, the instructions omitted, in the list of elements the state was required to prove, the mens rea elements — that defendant had acted knowingly. Defendant was found guilty on all counts but moved for a new trial under ORCP 64 B(1), alleging that the omission in the instructions was an “[i]rregularity in the proceedings of the court” that prevented him from having a fair trial. The trial court granted defendant’s motion, and the state appealed. In a divided, en banc decision, the Court of Appeals reversed. Finding no reversible error, the Oregon Supreme Court concurred and affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Oregon v. Ramoz" on Justia Law

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Defendant Justin Link committed aggravated murder as a juvenile in 2001. He was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment, which, as defined by statute at the relevant time, required him to serve “a minimum of 30 years without possibility of parole.” After serving that minimum term of confinement, defendant could petition to convert his sentence to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. In this case, defendant argued the statute under which he was sentenced violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court of Appeals agreed. The Oregon Supreme Court allowed the state’s petition for review, and reversed, finding defendant did not establish that the statutory scheme applicable here denied him a meaningful opportunity for release. "Therefore, the sentence that defendant received is not the functional equivalent of life without parole. It follows that defendant has failed to establish that Miller’s individualized-sentencing requirement applies to a sentence of 'life imprisonment' under ORS 163.105(1)(c) (2001)." The circuit court's order was affirmed. View "Oregon v. Link" on Justia Law

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Defendant Alex Aguirre-Rodriguez pleaded guilty to several crimes that resulted in damage to the victim’s truck. After the state presented evidence of a repair bill paid by the victim’s insurer, the trial court ordered defendant to pay restitution for the full amount of that bill, pursuant to ORS 137.106. Defendant appealed, arguing that the restitution award was not supported by sufficient evidence to prove that the amount charged had been reasonable. The Court of Appeals agreed with defendant and reversed. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the state presented sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding that the amount that the victim’s insurer paid for repairs was reasonable. The trial court therefore did not err in entering the restitution award. View "Oregon v. Aguirre-Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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The Oregon Supreme Court allowed review in this criminal case to consider whether the trial court correctly allowed the state to impeach defendant’s testimony with evidence that defendant previously had been convicted of second-degree assault. Defendant Frank Phillips was originally convicted on that crime in 1994, as well as other, more serious crimes arising out of an incident in 1993. In 2007, while still serving his prison sentence for the 1994 convictions, defendant successfully challenged those convictions through a petition for post-conviction relief. The post-conviction court vacated all of defendant’s 1994 convictions and remanded the case for a new trial, at which point the Department of Corrections released him from confinement. On retrial, in 2008, defendant again was convicted of second-degree assault, for which he was sentenced to a period of 36 months’ incarceration. But defendant was acquitted on retrial of the more serious charges that had been the basis for his lengthy original prison sentence. As a result, the judgment of conviction following retrial specified that defendant’s 36-month sentence for the second-degree assault “is served,” and the Department of Corrections issued a certificate specifying that defendant had an “Adjusted Calculated Release Date” of May 1996. In this case, defendant was charged with assault and strangulation arising out of an altercation with a neighbor. At the start of defendant’s trial, he advised the court that he planned to testify, and he urged the court to rule that evidence of his prior second-degree assault conviction would not be admissible under OEC 609. Defendant argued the operative date of his prior conviction was 1994, and that the operative date of his release from confinement for that conviction was 1996, meaning that the conviction should have been excluded because both dates fell outside of the OEC 609(3)(a) window of admissibility. The trial court disagreed and ruled that the state could offer evidence of the conviction as impeachment. The Court of Appeals concluded the date of defendant’s conviction on retrial supplied “the date of the conviction” for purposes of OEC 609’s 15-year window of admissibility and, accordingly, that the trial court correctly allowed evidence of that conviction to impeach defendant’s testimony. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals and affirmed. View "Oregon v. Phillips" on Justia Law