Measure 11, a bill passed in 1994, sought to bring harsher punishments to criminals in an attempt to keep the public safe and appear tough on crime. It did that, increasing incarceration rates across the state. But a new report questions if the effects of Measure 11 are as intended or if it has done more harm than good.
The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission’s report, released last week, says the mandatory minimums prescribed by Measure 11 have largely done away with judicial power and instead shifted the power of the justice system to the prosecutors in the state. The report was commissioned by the state as they examine potential changes to Oregon sentencing laws to minimize the damage of the state budget crisis.
The Commission Chairman, a former judge, states “There is a reason the Founding Fathers created an independent judiciary” going on to state Measure 11 has done away with the role of the judge and transferred that power to the prosecutor. Opponents of the report state it is politically motivated and is “anti-incarceration, anti-law enforcement, and anti-victims.”
The report found that without Measure 11 in place, the state prison system would need 2,900 fewer beds. The number of those incarcerated by the measure has been increased largely because prosecutors use the threat of mandatory minimums in convincing defendants to plead guilty to lesser charges, resulting in incarceration even when, perhaps, the case would have resulted in acquittal had it gone to trial.
Ultimately, the punishment for a suspected crime is now determined by a prosecutor in their choosing of an appropriate charge and the negotiation of a plea agreement. Justice is being carried out in hallways rather than courtrooms as attorneys bargain their way to a compromise, a compromise that often favors the state more than the defendant.
The report doesn’t make any recommendations for change but supporters of Measure 11 are worried that it will be a platform to eventually do away with or change the current sentencing laws.
The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved in plea agreements. This is true across the country. Ideally a plea agreement is favorable for both parties involved, though for the defendant it’s often a matter of the lesser of two evils.
If you are facing criminal charges and wondering about your options and the likelihood of a favorable plea agreement, contact me today.