Oregon Court of Appeals sides with Gov. Brown over early prison releases

The ruling came down Wednesday.
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 7:54 AM PDT
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SALEM, Ore. (KPTV) - The Oregon Court of Appeals says Governor Kate Brown had the legal authority to grant clemency to nearly a thousand people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ruling came down Wednesday.

District attorneys in Linn and Lane counties, as well as family members of crime victims, sued the governor and other state officials earlier this year.

The attorneys took issue with Brown’s decision to allow 73 people who were convicted of murder, assault, rape and manslaughter while they were younger than 18 to apply for early release.

The legal action alleged Brown granted clemency to people who had not sought early release through the standard legal process. Most of the people who received clemency during the pandemic were either medically at risk or had helped with wildfire fighting efforts during the historic Labor Day fires in 2020.

The Appeals Court said it was tasked with whether the governor could legally take the action that she did, and on that front the court found her actions legally sound.

FOX 12 reached out to governor’s office for a statement on the Appeals Court decision. Liz Merah, press secretary for the governor’s office, sent a statement saying, in full:

“Yesterday’s decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals validated across the board that Governor Brown has acted within her constitutional authority to grant clemency throughout her time in office.

We are a state and a nation of second chances—sentencing children to life sentences and near-life sentences without a second chance is not the kind of justice that most Oregonians believe in. That is why Governor Brown has used her clemency powers to allow certain teenagers an opportunity to make their case and demonstrate their capacity for growth, change, and rehabilitation in front of the Parole Board. The Parole Board—an independent body of experts—makes the final decision after hearing the case and weighing risk assessments; it is the Parole Board who determines whether a person has been held accountable and can be safely released into the community, while also taking into consideration the voices of victims and survivors.

We know that, when given the right support, many young people are worthy of redemption and can turn their lives around and become contributing members of society. We also know that many young people who commit crimes and are given life or near-life sentences are disproportionately youth of color. Sending teenagers to prison without a second chance has never been fair or equitable, and it has long contradicted what we know about adolescent brain development.”

FOX 12 also reached out to district attorneys for Lane and Linn counties.

Doug Marteeny, district attorney for Linn County, replied with a statement saying:

“This opinion grants the Governor unbridled authority to ignore victims in the clemency process, which is what the Governor did here.  The Governor fought for and prevailed in her ability to ignore victims.

I am not defeatist however, this opinion explains that “ultimately, it is the voters .. who hold the power to limit clemency actions.”  We are the masters of our destiny and this outlines the significant need for a change to Oregon’s law.  Most reasonable people agree that victims should have a voice in these matters.”

FOX 12 has not yet heard back from the Lane County District Attorney’s Office.