Malheur County criminal cases may be reworked due to U.S. Supreme Court ruling

The Malheur County Courthouse in Vale. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)

Oregon’s high courts may ask Malheur County to rework as many as seven criminal cases in which the defendant was convicted by a split jury, according to Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April determined that split verdicts in criminal felony cases were unconstitutional. Oregon was the only U.S. state that allowed non-unanimous juries to do so prior to the decision, said Goldthorpe. 

As a result, the Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals are returning cases to county prosecutors to consider again.

Juries in Oregon could previously find people guilty in felony cases – except for homicide – with a 10-2 or 11-1 vote, said Goldthorpe.

Seven closed criminal cases in Malheur County could potentially be remanded for a new trial, he said, though none have yet been assigned. Goldthorpe said he would evaluate whether the defendant can still be tried, assessing if key witnesses and evidence are still available. He said there could be new plea negotiations to resolve cases without a trial.

Essentially, judge rulings at the original trial would stand in a retrial, said Goldthorpe. This includes decisions a judge made regarding suppression or exclusion actions such as a motion to suppress evidence, a motion to exclude a witness or a ruling that evidence was gathered inappropriately, as well as previously sworn testimony, he said.

Rather than returning “to square one,” Goldthorpe likened remanding cases to going back to square nine out of 10.

Whether reworking the cases would be a lengthy process would depend on the complexity of individual trials, he said.

“Nothing that would require, I don’t believe, any extreme amounts of extra effort on our part,” he said. “It just makes you frustrated that you have to do the job all over again.”

News tip? Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian by email at [email protected] or call 503-929-3053.


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