Malheur County District Attorney David Goldthorpe said a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could mean a few local cases will be reviewed for retrial. (The Enterprise/File).
VALE – Half a dozen criminal prosecutions resolved by juries in Malheur County during the past four years could go before a judge again after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court Monday.
The court ruled 6-3 that laws in Oregon and Louisiana are unconstitutional that permitted individuals accused of felony crimes to be convicted by a split vote of a jury. The decision reversed a 1972 judgment by the court where it found the Constitution does not block states from convicting defendants by such a jury vote.
At this point, six cases tried locally in 2016, 2017 and 2018 may be impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision, said Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe.
“There is a chance, but that is still to be determined,” said Goldthorpe.
Goldthorpe said most of the six cases involved felony child sex abuse or domestic violence.
“We have had several 300-month sentences where there were aspects of those cases that were not unanimous,” said Goldthorpe.
Goldthorpe said the decision by the Supreme Court is a “huge deal statewide.”
“And it’s a huge deal for defendants’ rights. Constitutionally speaking, it is a big deal,” said Goldthorpe.
Murder cases will not be impacted by the decision, said Goldthorpe, as Oregon law already requires those to be by unanimous verdict.
The decision, he said, doesn’t mean all non-unanimous verdicts will be retried.
“Typically, when the courts do this, it does not have full retroactivity,” said Goldthorpe.
Only cases already under appeal could potentially qualify for a new trial, said Goldthorpe.
The Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court will decide what convictions will be overturned and a new trial ordered, he said.
Goldthorpe said the decision will not impact misdemeanor convictions.
If any cases meet the retrial standard, the workload for Goldthorpe’s office will increase, he said.
“You hate having to start something all the way over again. Those kinds of trials take multiple days, then you have a sentencing phase. You have to do restitution all over again. So, you are back to before the trial occurred practically speaking,” said Goldthorpe.
Oregon was the last state in the union to use a non-unanimous jury mandate for felony cases.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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