Hundreds of split jury cases getting second day in court across Oregon

Published: Nov. 8, 2023 at 9:06 AM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Hundreds of current and former prisoners in Oregon have a chance to get their cases re-tried, and possibly clear their names.

For nearly 100 years, Oregon and Louisiana were the only states that allowed for non-unanimous jury verdicts when convicting someone of a felony.

Oregon voters voted in favor of implementing non-unanimous jury verdicts in a ballot measure back in 1934.

But in 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ramos v. Louisiana that non-unanimous jury verdicts are unconstitutional.

This ruling stopped the practice of non-unanimous jury verdicts in felony convictions, saying it violated a defendant’s constitutional right to an impartial jury.

In 2022, the Oregon State Supreme Court took up the issue of retroactivity for non-unanimous jury cases in 2022 in Watkins v Ackley. The case looked at whether non-unanimous jury verdict cases prior to the federal Ramos v. Louisiana ruling were also unconstitutional. In the state court ruling in Watkins v Ackley, it was ruled those incarcerated or formerly incarcerated through non-unanimous jury verdicts in Oregon could have their cases re-tried and possibly dropped altogether. Now, the state’s legal system is starting to re-visit hundreds of criminal cases.

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Enrique Bautista was sentenced to about 23-and-a-half years in prison back in March of 2003 for four felony assault charges during the summer of 2002. In his indictment, Bautista was charged with beating another man with a baseball bat, and then several days later, stabbing three men at the Woodburn Inn in Marion County.

“I’m nowhere near the person I was when I went in,” said Bautista. “I avoided the word ‘man’ or ‘adult,’ I was 18 years old, but I don’t think you’re a man at 18.”

Court documents from Bautista’s sentencing say that he admitted to being affiliated with a gang, but he says he did not commit the crimes he was accused of. Prosecutors claimed that the stabbing incident was a “violent crime spree” in which Bautista was “out to prove how tough and violent he really was.” Bautista has and still maintains his innocence in both incidents, but was found guilty on all four charges. The incident where he was charged with beating a man with a baseball bat, as well as the three charges connected to the triple stabbing were tried as one case.

But according to court documents, one juror found Bautista not guilty on the three stabbing charges. Under state law at the time, that meant Bautista would still be convicted on the stabbing assault charges, but would not have in most other states.

“There was always a sense of frustration like it shouldn’t be like this and why is this happening? But it was happening, so I had to deal with it.”

According to court documents from Bautista’s 2003 trial, the three men he allegedly stabbed: Jose Gomez-Galeote, Teodoro Aldaco-Diaz, and Javier Ramirez-Chavez, were not listed as witnesses. Bautista says the three men were never heard from again after giving a statement to police and did not attend the trial. Bautista feels he served such a long sentence on not much evidence. The conviction and subsequent incarceration separated him from his then-one-year-old daughter. Bautista says his long sentence was mentally taxing.

“I don’t think resentment would be the right word to explain what I felt, but it was more of dissatisfaction, frustration, a lot of loneliness.”

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Possibly putting an end to some of that frustration and dissatisfaction for those in prison is Lewis and Clark Law School professor, Aliza Kaplan. Kaplan is one of the leading legal experts on this issue. Advocating for the end of non-unanimous jury convictions and getting these cases re-tried has been Kaplan’s primary focus for years.

“This is a failure of our system to have a rule like non-unanimous juries for so long here in Oregon,” she said. “This is about having constitutional rights. It’s bigger than any one case, we had to end this practice.”

According to the Oregon Department of Justice, there are at least 676 cases statewide that are eligible to be re-tried and have the defendants re-sentenced, or have their cases dismissed altogether. FOX 12 Investigates also reached out to some of the state’s largest counties to uncover how many of these cases could be taken up by local district attorneys. Multnomah County reports up to 98 cases, Clackamas County reports up to 39, Marion County reports 83, and Washington County reports 87.

Over the last few years, Kaplan and the team of law students she works with at Lewis and Clark put together a massive educational push for those in and out of prison. The goal was to get as many people convicted under split juries to understand their new legal rights.

“We also played I think a really special role, which is making sure that people who are incarcerated understood all the different rulings that came out, what it meant generally for their cases,” said Kaplan. “We provided paperwork and samples for people to file, to have access to a lawyer, to bring a claim if they had a non-unanimous jury.”

Earlier last year, Enrique Bautista was one of those prisoners who learned he may be able to have his case re-tried. He got a new public defender in February, and by July, had taken the legal steps to get his case re-tried, and be released from prison about two-and-a-half years early while the legal proceedings played out once again. He was out on a $150,000 bail, according to court documents.

“So it basically is, you start from scratch,” said Bautista. “Imagine you just got arrested all over again and the same proceedings are taking place. The only difference is I had 20 years to study my case and know what went wrong.”

With his new lawyer, Bautista was determined to clear his name of those assault charges for allegedly stabbing three men at the Woodburn Inn all those years ago. Bautista was willing to go to trial again, and risk possibly being sent back to prison to serve the rest of his sentence. But it was a risk he was willing to take.

“They gave me a choice: Plead guilty, and most of the time you get time served, you can go live your life,” he said. “But the fact that I fought for 21 years claiming my innocence, fighting for my innocence and doing the work of an attorney, paralegal, secretary, all of that on my own, I had no help and I had to do that. It felt like, why would I give up now?”

SEE ALSO: New police body cam footage shows standoff with accused Klamath Falls kidnapper

But good news finally came less than a month ago. On October 19, the Marion County District Attorney dismissed the three stabbing assault charges, saying in dismissal documents the court was “unable to locate victims and essential witnesses due to the passage of time.” This was a weight lifted off Bautista’s shoulders he never thought would be reality.

“It wasn’t until recently that, you know, I felt a sense of relief, finally. I felt like I was always walking on eggshells.”

Even though Bautista stands by his innocence on all the charges, including the first assault charge where the jury unanimously found him guilty, he says he changed for the better during his year behind bars. He says he thought long and hard about who he wanted to be, and make a change from the troubled path he was on in his youth.

“I can tell you that I wish I would have met someone like me today, there was no one like me,” he said. “So I feel like in a lot of ways I can be that someone for someone else. They say that no one can help everybody, but anybody can help somebody.”

Bautista has put those words to action, and became involved with a group while in prison called Taking Accountability Group (TAG). Bautista says the group is made up of current and formerly incarcerated individuals who work with at-risk youth and share their stories, in the hopes of steering young people on a better path in life.

Tune into Good Day Oregon on Thursday, Nov. 9 beginning at 6 a.m. and throughout the morning for a closer look at the impact on crime victims when non-unanimous jury verdict cases are revisited in court.

Hundreds of current and former prisoners in Oregon have a chance to get their cases re-tried, and possibly clear their names.