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Function of Juries | 30 Sep 2012

Oregon Appeals Court Rules for More Jury Trials

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The Oregon Appeals Court has ruled that prosecutors may not simply make an end run around the Oregon Constitution by reducing criminal misdemeanor charges to violations on par with traffic tickets in order to deny defendants’ rights to trial by jury.

Oregon appeals ruling on jury trials worries court officials about clogging overloaded justice system

the Appeals Court ruled that a 44-year-old woman who was arrested and briefly booked into jail on shoplifting allegations in 2010 was wrongly denied a trial by jury. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office had reduced Tawanna Fuller’s two misdemeanor charges — third-degree theft and attempted first-degree theft — to violations, and a judge denied her a jury trial.

A judge then found Fuller guilty of both violations and ordered her to pay a $600 fine.

Fuller appealed, saying that despite the prosecution’s argument that she wasn’t charged with criminal wrongdoing, she still suffered the stigma of being labeled a thief and should have gotten a jury trial. The Court of Appeals agreed.

Attorneys aren’t sure how far the ruling goes — whether it’s limited to only low-level theft and shoplifting cases like Fuller’s or whether it applies to defendants facing all kinds of other misdemeanor charges downgraded to violations.

The most immediate effect of this ruling is the delay of numerous Occupy cases the Multnomah County prosecutor had chosen to pursue as violations instead of misdemeanors, thereby denying defendants’ rights to argue their cases before juries. The ruling has called into question the status of dozens of Occupy Portland protesters’ cases, including some which have already gone before a judge instead of a jury.

Oregon Appeals Court Rules for More Jury Trials

Attorney Bear Wilner-Nugent, representing four Occupy protesters for free, said scores more remain to be tried.

Nearly 200 people were arrested on charges such as disorderly conduct, trespassing and interfering with police in Occupy demonstrations in late 2011 and early 2012.

The district attorney’s office decided to pursue many of the cases as violations, not misdemeanors, and a judge ruled that the protesters didn’t have a right to a jury trial.

More than half of the 200 agreed to plea deals, but more than 90 have dug in for a fight and requested trials. A few dozen have already gone to trial before a judge.

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