A slate of bills introduced to the Oregon Senate on Monday could limit the scope of harsh state sentencing laws, and lessen their impact on minors.
Many of Oregon's mandatory minimum sentencing laws are dictated by past ballot measures—including 1994's Measure 11, which lays out sentencing minimums for violent crimes that range from five to 30 years. It also requires 15, 16, and 17-year-olds to be tried and sentenced as adults if they commit a crime listed in the measure.
Oregon Senate Bills 969, 1007, and 1008—all sponsored by the senate judiciary committee—each aim to mitigate those issues.
SB 969 would eliminate the requirement that 15, 16, and 17-year-olds be tried as adults, even for Measure 11 crimes. SB 1007 would grant those serving mandatory minimum sentences early release for good behavior, and SB 1008 gives minors convicted of mandatory minimum crimes a chance to be released after serving just half of their sentence.
Senate Bills 966, 967, and 968, also judiciary committee bills, also provide protections for underage defendants. These bills would make it easier for people who were convicted of crimes as minors to be released early, and require courts to consider age as a mitigating factor in cases that could result in life sentences.
Criminal justice reform advocates say Measure 11's stipulation that minors be tried as adults is based on an outdated understanding of human development, and takes away an underage defendant’s opportunity to rehabilitate themselves through the youth justice system.
“We should have a justice system that doesn’t throw people away at ages 15, 16, and 17,” Bobbin Singh, director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, told the Mercury in January.
The introduction of these three bills, and their support from the judiciary committee, reflects a growing tide of criminal justice reform in Oregon. This session also has legislation addressing non-unanimous jury convictions (Oregon is currently the only state to accept them in felony cases), as well as a bill that would make death penalty convictions less likely.
A recent ruling from the Oregon Supreme Court could make it easier for the state legislature to amend mandatory minimum laws in the future.