Doell Op Ed Opposes Retroactive Overturning of Valid Convictions


Senate Bill 1511 was proposed in 2022 and would have retroactively invalidated thousands of valid criminal convictions in Oregon. Crime Victims United opposed SB 1511 and it was defeated for the time being.

The following op ed appeared in The Oregonian on February 16, 2022.

Opinion: SB 1511 grants a blanket edict to overturn valid convictions

Steve Doell

Doell is president of Crime Victims United of Oregon.

The Oregon Legislature is considering Senate Bill 1511. If passed, hundreds of dangerous criminals convicted by a nonunanimous jury will be able to petition the court and get out of prison.

Under the bill, the criminals only need to prove by clear and convincing evidence that they were convicted by a nonunanimous jury. There is no requirement to provide evidence that the conviction was unlawful or unjust. The judge is required, with no victimís voice and no ability to exercise discretion, to vacate the conviction. While the prosecutor could retry the case, resource issues, stale evidence and faded memories ensure there will be very few retrials.

For over 85 years, Oregon law only required 10 out of 12 jurors agree to convict or acquit defendants charged with all felonies except murder. It gave defendants an important advantage of not requiring a unanimous jury to acquit. Oregonís procedure was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1972 case of Apodaca v. Oregon and found to be constitutional.

In 2020, however, the court reversed itself in Ramos v. Louisiana. It determined that the U.S. Constitution does require a unanimous jury. The Ramos decision was also motivated by the fact that nonunanimous verdicts had been enacted to prevent Black Americans from having a voice in juries. Oregon was required to immediately institute unanimous verdicts. But the Supreme Court ruled in a separate case that the Ramos decision does not apply to past convictions.

The legislation that pro-criminal groups are attempting to enact far exceeds the scope of the problem the Supreme Court sought to address in Ramos. These activists seek a blanket edict to overturn the convictions of numerous dangerous offenders, releasing many from prison, without any consideration of the harm that will be caused to the community and to the victims of their crimes. This is an unnecessary and dangerous solution to a problem that could be solved with a more reasonable approach.

Racism has no place in our society, especially in our criminal justice system. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation drops any pretense of protecting minority juror input or minority defendants. It will lead to erasing judgments against every criminal defendant in custody who seeks review because they were convicted with a less than unanimous verdict. Perversely, the proposed legislation will mostly benefit white offenders across the state, who will be allowed to walk free from convictions without any finding that minority voices were silenced on juries, without any finding that their cases were decided wrongfully, and without any consideration of the interests of traumatized victims of violent crimes. Tellingly, while focusing on the purported evils of nonunanimous verdicts for convictions, SB 1511 retains nonunanimous verdicts for acquittals, making acquittals easier for Oregon defendants than in any other state. As such, the proposed legislation is little more than a Trojan horse, designed to eliminate criminal accountability in Oregon for as many dangerous criminals as possible.

Vacating a conviction affects victims, who are robbed of the closure and validation that the justice system provided and essentially tells victims that the pain they suffered wasnít a crime worth holding someone accountable for after all.

If you are a crime victim; a family member or a friend of a victim, or a citizen disgusted with criminals being treated as victims while the real victims are continually re-victimized, now is the time to stop this: Call or write your Oregon state senator and representative: Call or write Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Dan Rayfield.

Tell them to vote no on SB 1511.

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