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June 25, 2014

Measure 11- power to the people?

I’m all for giving power to the people, but only if the people are very educated about the matter in hand.  I’m not convinced they should be electing judges if they know very little about the criminal justice system.  Equally I’m appalled by Measure 11. Oregon has a system whereby citizens can propose and vote for new laws.  A victims’ group proposed what became measure 11 – mandatory minimum sentences for a whole range of crimes starting with second degree robbery and second degree assault (minimum 5 years 10 months), to second degree rape (6 years, 3 months) to murder (25 years).  The population of Oregon voted overwhelmingly in favour of the measure with 788,695 votes in favor, and 412,816 votes against. It was sponsored by the State representative Kevin Mannix in 1994 and all efforts to defeat it have been thwarted.  Needless to say it hugely limits the discretion of judges and pushed up the prison population when first passed.  Since it came into force though, lawyers have found ways to manoeuvre round it.  People who want to plead innocent of all charges are instead persuaded to plead guilty to a lesser charge, in order to avoid a mandatory sentence.  One of the worst aspects of Measure 11 in theory is that it applies to children from 15 up, who are treated as adults if they commit any of the crimes on the list.  In reality very few children are ever imprisoned under Measure 11, since all concerned try to frame the charge so that it does not meet the criteria.  The  Governor,John Kitzhaber, set up a commission on public safety in 2012 which recommended that measure 11 should be repealed.  The commission influenced the passing of new and progressive laws, but failed to repeal measure 11.  It looks as if this law will remain on the statute books until public opinion changes, and the politicians follow.