Criminal Justice Reform CitySpeak

Ex-Con Youth Justice Director & District Attorney to Share Panel
Criminal Justice Reform CitySpeak, Jan 23

Until now, Oregon youth accused of violent crimes could be tried and sentenced as adults under a prosecutor’s order, and could even be sentenced to life without the possiblity of parole. To date, Oregon is the last and only state that allows nonunanimous juries to convict persons with felony charges, with the exception of murder or aggravated murder. Meaning, a 12 person jury needs only 10 votes to pass a guilty or innocent verdict. Anywhere else in the U.S., those one or two jurors can make or break a person’s freedom.

Ingrained in these matters is a long history of marginalization, racial bias, and a lack of trauma-informed practices within our state judicial system.

For our first CitySpeak event of the year, The Corvallis Advocate could think of none better to address these issues than Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson and ex-convict turned Youth Justice Director Trevor Walraven of Eugene.

About Our Panelists
Elected in 2008 as Oregon’s first Mexican-American District Attorney, Haroldson has since been recognized for his excellence in prosecution by the Oregon Crime Victims Assistance Network and the Oregon Humane Society. He has distinguished himself as a voice for minority rights and increased diversity in the field of law, and supports the abolishment of nonunanimous juries in Oregon.

Trevor Walraven’s experience with the justice system began when he was found guilty of murder at the age of 14, and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. After almost 18 years of incarceration, Walraven became the second juvenile lifer to be released under Oregon’s Second Look statute for showing exemplary rehabilitation. He now acts as the Director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center’s Youth Justice Project (YJP), where he oversees implementation of Senate Bill 1008.

Beginning this year, SB 1008 transfers power from prosecutors to judges in trying minors as adults, and prohibits life sentences without the possibility of parole for convicted youth. The YJP assists youth who are charged with crimes in which the district attorney is seeking a waiver hearing, and provides resources for criminal defense teams representing youth prosecuted in the adult system. The YJP also tracks those who would have benefited from the bill retroactively.

Haroldson and Walraven will join as panelists at The Corvallis Advocate’s Criminal Justice Reform CitySpeak at Old World Deli in Corvallis on Thursday, January 23.

Starting at 6:30 p.m., the event is free and open to the public, and as always, will feature a lengthy audience Q&A session following moderation by Advocate Editor Stevie Beisswanger and Publisher Steve Schultz.

Here is some brief history and context to get you prepped for the discussion:

SB 1008 Amends Youth Sentencing
Despite strong opposition by the Oregon District Attorneys Association (ODAA), SB 1008 was passed in May of 2019.

Until this year, minimun sentences for violent crimes like rape, murder, and assault were mandated under Measure 11 — passed in 1994 during a national crack down on crime. Oregon offenders as young as 15 could be tried as adults, and sentenced to life without parole. With the passing of SB 1008, all youth convicted in adult court now have access to a Second Look hearing halfway through their sentence wherein a judge can allow them to complete their sentence in the community, under strict probation.

According to the Oregon Council on Civil Rights (OCCR), Oregon has been incarcerating youth at one of the highest rates in the county, at a cost of nearly $100,000 a year per Measure 11 offender.

Their 2018 report condemned Oregon’s history of trying minors in adult courts, arguing that brain development is disrupted at a critical stage, before being fully developed in a person’s mid-20s.

The report stated, “Most Measure 11 youth have some history of trauma, abuse or drug use. All Measure 11 youth are in just the first half of a process of cognitive, emotional and physical development that makes teen life a tumultuous and somewhat vulnerable experience.”

Incarcerated youth are therefore not fairly equipt to navigate the adult criminal justice system, and the repercussions of such harsh sentencing can create future barriers to success, such as decreased access to stable housing, education, and employment opportunities.

The OCCR called for criminal justice training in trauma-informed care, cultural responsivity, and brain development.

Oregon Law & Marginalization
Often those incarcerated already come from poor or marginalized backgrounds. The Prison Policy Initiative reported, “Poverty is not only a predictor of incarceration; it is also frequently the outcome, as a criminal record and time spent in prison destroys wealth, creates debt, and decimates job opportunities.”

The OCCR report showed that African American youth in Multnomah County were 13 times more likely to be indicted than their white peers, while the Oregon Justice Resource Center reported that Black youth made up 16 percent of the youths prosecuted under Measure 11, despite making up only two percent of Oregon’s population. Comparatively, 2017 statistics show that while Black Americans represented 33% of the U.S. adult prison population, they only made up 12% of the general adult population.

Oregon’s use of nonunanimous juries is also claimed to be rooted in racism, as a reaction to a 1933 trial when a Jewish man named Jacob Silverman was accused of killing a Protestant. A single juror decided Silverman’s conviction of manslaughter rather than first-degree murder.

Recent research shows that nonunanimous verdicts account for over 40 percent of all felony jury verdicts in Oregon. That’s almost one half of Oregon’s felony trials that would have bared opposite verdicts had they occurred in any other part of the country.

On January 5, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum publicly denounced nonunanimous juries in an open editorial addressed to The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board.

“I do not support this 85-year-old law allowing non-unanimous jury verdicts, and I believe the Oregon Legislature should have referred a constitutional amendment to repeal the law to the people for a vote this past November,” wrote Rosenblum. “This is exactly how our initiative and referendum process should be used.”

Rosenblum is Oregon’s first woman and Jewish attorney general.

Closer to home, Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson has been previously quoted saying, “The unanimous jury system allows for all voices in the jury to be heard, and that’s critical to a just and transparent criminal justice system.”

By Stevie Beisswanger