PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Supreme Court handed down a ruling in December that makes all prisoners convicted by non-unanimous juries eligible to receive new trials. Now, local municipalities are sharing how that decision has trickled down.
Law enforcement officials say in the weeks since the supreme court decision, they’ve already seen an impact, squeezing just that much more into an already full to do list.
This includes hundreds of cases in the state which were closed before 2020 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down non-unanimous jury verdicts. According to the Attorney General’s Office, there are about 400 inmates statewide eligible.
Investigators now need to prepare to rework cases, some of which are decades old.
“These are very large cases,” said Sgt. Danny Dipietro with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. “Some of them are homicide, significant assaults or some large investigations where there was a lot of evidence, so it’s not where an investigator can just go back and jump on the stand and do it all over. They have to prepare themselves. They have to go through their notes. They have to go through all the police reports because this could have been years ago.”
Sgt. Dipietro says this will take investigators months in some cases. This also means some public defenders will be tasked with adding more to their already untenable work load.
In Washington County, there is six people currently in custody and a total of 86 cases needing to be retried.
This is no small feat, according to Sgt. Dipietro.
“We’re holding along, holding on to a lot of adults in custody right now who are pending trial, more severe crimes,” he said. “So, we’re seeing a lot more of the adults in custody who are in charge. What’s that doing is taking up a lot of events. So unfortunately, when other individuals come in with less significant crimes, we have to make a determination.”
He says they consider things like if they’ve missed court appearances in the past, their arrest history or the type of crime they’re in for.
Those opposed to the ruling say these retrials will bring up fresh trauma for the victims who have to participate as well.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office said it is “impossible to overlook the significant impact this will have on the very limited resources of the criminal justice system and on the many victims throughout Oregon who are about to have their cases unexpectedly reopened.”
When reached by KOIN 6 News, Clackamas and Multnomah counties said they were both uncertain how many cases they have received.
Oregon and Louisiana were the last two states to allow convictions from non-unanimous juries. This was overturned in 2020 with the case Ramos v. Louisiana on grounds it could be racially discriminatory.
Stay with KOIN 6 for continuing coverage.