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Oregon court ruling could eliminate death penalty for many

The Oregon Supreme Court struck down the death sentence of an inmate in a ruling Thursday that found lawmakers had fundamentally altered “prevailing societal standards” for executions with a 2019 law change.

Posted: Oct 7, 2021 2:39 PM
Updated: Oct 7, 2021 3:35 PM

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court struck down the death sentence of an inmate in a ruling Thursday that found lawmakers had fundamentally altered “prevailing societal standards” for executions with a 2019 law change.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that experts believe the decision could eliminate the death sentence for all inmates facing the penalty

State lawmakers passed SB 1013 in 2019. The bill narrowed what crimes qualify as aggravated murder — the only charge that carries capital punishment in Oregon.

While the law change included a provision that did not make it retroactive, the court’s ruling appears to do that, relying on a section of the state’s Constitution that prohibits disproportionate punishments.


Background

The death penalty has a turbulent history in Oregon, and it has been abolished and reinstated several times over since 1900. After the Oregon Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1981, voters reinstated capital punishment in 1984.

Despite the fact that capital punishment remains law in Oregon, the last execution to take place was in 1997. In 2011, Governor John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on executions, which Governor Kate Brown has upheld through her terms.

In 2019, the Oregon legislature passed Senate Bill 1013, which redefined the state's concept of aggravated murder so that only a handful of the most reprehensible crimes would qualify for the death penalty: killings motivated by terrorism, the murder of children 14 or younger, killings by an incarcerated person with a previous "aggravated murder" sentence, and pre-meditated killings of police or corrections officers.

Sponsors of the bill said that they did not intend it to be retroactive, but it almost immediately proved to be the basis for legal challenges from death row inmates who argued that they were no longer eligible for the death penalty. Despite misgivings about the new law on both sides of the aisle, Governor Brown did not follow through on calling a special legislative session to pass a "fix."

At least some legal experts expect that Thursday's ruling from the Oregon Supreme Court will cement earlier opinions that many death row inmates' sentences can be overturned and re-sentenced.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 390066

Reported Deaths: 5142
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah60179836
Washington41910395
Marion39824506
Clackamas32722377
Lane30033354
Jackson24808357
Deschutes23460185
Umatilla15098180
Linn14610179
Douglas13323287
Josephine10134242
Yamhill9717142
Klamath9002145
Polk8162100
Benton608338
Malheur592086
Coos5600106
Columbia429255
Jefferson419366
Lincoln360752
Union338654
Crook332356
Wasco314946
Clatsop261235
Baker219133
Tillamook216345
Hood River211937
Morrow197125
Curry191039
Harney119532
Grant108515
Lake104216
Wallowa75413
Sherman1903
Gilliam1854
Wheeler1141
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Reported Deaths: 74367
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Los Angeles152627227138
San Diego4050994325
Riverside3873955358
San Bernardino3742565958
Orange3341765710
Sacramento1682422428
Kern1575251791
Fresno1566772252
Santa Clara1519051920
Alameda1251221504
San Joaquin1075271834
Ventura1039691190
Contra Costa1036861046
Stanislaus914651415
Tulare860701095
San Francisco56866669
San Mateo56265629
Monterey52477626
Solano47644356
Santa Barbara47268549
Merced45052667
Sonoma43127412
Placer42120470
Imperial38446773
Kings35204364
San Luis Obispo31463358
Madera26180311
Shasta26082444
Butte25441313
Santa Cruz22209224
Yolo21547257
Marin18447249
El Dorado18294166
Sutter14559186
Napa13419104
Yuba1075689
Tehama10275130
Humboldt10143118
Nevada10014105
Mendocino856097
Lassen796256
San Benito780778
Tuolumne772390
Lake7039110
Amador577066
Siskiyou474555
Glenn456636
Calaveras441288
Del Norte375442
Colusa325319
Inyo256846
Plumas19367
Mono18604
Mariposa159818
Trinity99617
Modoc7655
Unassigned2700
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Alpine1080
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