If you guessed C, you’re spot on. In Oregon, defendants in most felony cases can be convicted without a unanimous jury, which is only true in one other state. And that state is… Louisiana. 😬
Wondering how that happened? Us too. So we asked Rep. Jennifer Williamson, a leading advocate for criminal justice reform in the state legislature, to break it down for us.
Oregon has a stain on its criminal justice system. We are one of two states – in bad company with Louisiana – with a discriminatory law that requires only 10 of 12 jurors to agree on a guilty verdict for defendants to be convicted of most felonies.
There’s not much data on how our state’s non-unanimous jury law affects juveniles specifically, but we do know that Oregon prosecutes youth in adult courts at the second-highest rate in the country, meaning that hundreds, if not thousands, of Oregon kids have been denied the unanimous jury protection that’s afforded to every defendant in other states.
We also know that the history of this standard is rooted in racism and xenophobia. In 1934, Oregon voters approved a ballot measure to allow non-unanimous jury convictions following a salacious murder trial involving a Jewish hotel proprietor. The accused, Jacob Silverman, avoided being convicted of murder because of a single hold-out juror, whose refusal to go along forced a compromise conviction of manslaughter.
At the time, in 1933, the Morning Oregonian editorialized against the hold-out juror based on openly racist beliefs. “This newspaper’s opinion is that the increased urbanization of American life … and the vast immigration into America from southern and eastern Europe, of people untrained in the jury system, have combined to make the jury of twelve increasingly unwieldy and unsatisfactory,” they wrote.
Just weeks after the Silverman trial ended, the state legislature referred to voters a constitutional amendment that would allow non-unanimous convictions except in first-degree murder cases. It’s been on the books ever since.
So, how does this affect Oregonians? Again, there isn’t much data specifically examining non-unanimous jury verdicts, but we do have more than a decade of Oregon court data showing that people of color are unfairly treated in the criminal justice system. (You can learn more from “Unequal Justice” – a joint project of InvestigateWest and the Pamplin Media Group.)
Since last year, there has been growing momentum to fix this relic of Oregon’s racist past.
The current law says a jury “in the circuit court ten members of the jury may render a verdict of guilty or not guilty.” Because the authors used the word “may” instead of “shall,” there could be leeway. I believe it is possible for the legislature to provide a legal interpretation of the amendment that would render it ineffective. I expect, if we move forward with this, we will be sued. For the possibility that we could remove this blight from our system though, that is a small price to pay.
Alternatively, we could refer another ballot measure to voters that would overturn the original constitutional amendment – but there’s always a chance Oregonians vote it down after an expensive campaign.
One way or another, we owe it to Oregonians to ensure our criminal justice system is fair and equitable for all.
—Rep. Jennifer Williamson
This is Part II of our Real Talk series on juvenile justice in Oregon. Check out last Wednesday’s newsletter for our first installment — about Trevor Walraven, Measure 11, and the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing.
We’re learning! A hefty sea creature washed ashore at the Oregon Coast last week, and we didn’t blow it to pieces with a half-ton of dynamite this time. (Hooray!) Instead, researchers took advantage of the opportunity to study a “robust clubhook squid,” a rare species that can grow up to 12 feet long. (OregonLive)
Let it be. Music industry pros are singing the blues over Sen. Ron Wyden’s threat to derail the Music Modernization Act that passed the House in May if the Senate won’t hear his alternative. Wyden’s bill, which some archivists and big tech groups support, includes more streamlined laws for older music and less strenuous copyright protections. (OPB)
Cash out? New campaign finance rules for city elections will be on your ballot in November. If passed, the amendment would limit contributions from individuals and political committees to $500 per candidate, and prohibit campaign contributions from corporations. (Willamette Week)
Here comes the sun. Portland-owned Kona Brewing is integrating solar energy and new high-tech storage into its new Hawaii brewery, which will produce almost 7,000 cans of beer per hour. Cheers, Kona! (Solar Industry)
Aftermath. Protests in downtown Portland last weekend left people scrambling for cover as police officers reportedly used flash-bang grenades to disperse crowds. One woman received chemical burns, and the ACLU called this use of force ‘unacceptable.’ Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw has suspended the use of flash-bang grenades while the department investigates these claims. (The Guardian)
🌤️ Catch a (free) outdoor concert at The Riverside (NE | Kenton)
🎙️ Or an acoustic show at the Star Theater (NW | Old Town)
🚌 Celebrate the Bus Project’s birthday (SE | Central Eastside) 🆕
🍷 Listen to live jazz at Corkscrew (SE | Westmoreland)
🎵 See Hall & Oates at the Moda Center (NE | Rose Quarter)
🌊 Cruise down the Willamette with live music (Downtown)
😂 ROFL at an improv festival – through Saturday (Downtown)
💃 Go to an indie dance party (SE | Central Eastside)
🐷 Get ‘high on the hog’ (NW | Alphabet)
😎 Check your breath at Garlic Fest (North Plains)
🎥 Watch ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ at the park (SE | Hawthorne)
🎤 See Jack White at Veterans Coliseum (NE | Rose Quarter)
💃 Get glam for a Gatsby party (Downtown)
🎉 Check out the Alberta Street Fair (NE | Alberta)
🌃 Or the Beaverton Night Market (Beaverton)
🌍 Or the Pan African Festival (Downtown)
🇮🇳 Go to Portland’s India Festival (Downtown)
🐕 Take the dogs to Pup City Fest (Central Eastside)
🚴 Ride in the Bridge Pedal (Downtown) 🆕
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