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March 14, 2012

Oregon murderer seeks to reject and escape Governor's execution reprieve

As reported in this local article, which is headlined "Inmate Haugen still seeks execution," a convicted murderer in Oregon is pressing very interesting legal claims in order to get executed.  Here are the basics:

Death row inmate Gary Haugen, thwarted in his bid to be put to death, is challenging the execution reprieve that Gov. John Kitzhaber issued in November. The 49-year-old, twice-convicted killer is pursuing a new execution date.

Haugen’s attorney has mailed a motion to the Marion County Circuit Court asking for a new death warrant.  In a letter to Kitzhaber released Tuesday, Portland attorney Harrison Latto asserts that the governor exceeded his constitutional authority in issuing Haugen a temporary reprieve.  He said Haugen feels trapped in “legal limbo” and subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

“Mr. Haugen does not feel that you are treating him mercifully by forcing him to remain in a kind of legal limbo that will last for an uncertain period of time, potentially as long as seven years, at the end of which he might, or might not be put to death,” Latto wrote. “Putting Mr. Haugen into that position against his will is more accurately described, in his view, as cruel and unusual punishment. While you have every right, of course, to lead a campaign to repeal the death penalty in Oregon, Mr. Haugen should not be forced to serve as a pawn in that effort....

On Nov. 22, Kitzhaber announced that he was halting Haugen’s scheduled Dec. 6 execution. He also said that he won’t allow any executions to occur while he is governor. In canceling Oregon’s first execution in 14 years, the Democratic governor denounced the death penalty in broad terms, describing it as “an expensive and unworkable system that fails to meet basic standards of justice.”...

In challenging the reprieve, Latto maintains it is “legally ineffective and void” because it was filed in court by a previous attorney representing Haugen, who “acted without his knowledge or authorization.”

“He is filing today a motion asking the court to annul that filing,” Latto wrote, referring to Haugen. “An act of this importance cannot be legally accomplished by a lawyer unless he acts according to the express instructions of his client.” Latto also asserts that Kitzhaber exceeded his authority by issuing Haugen a reprieve for an indefinite period of time. A reprieve, he said, must be issued for a specific period, and it must also be accepted by the inmate....

“There is strong legal authority supporting the idea that pardons, commutations, and reprieves are acts that must be based upon the Governor’s individualized judgment that a particular person deserves that relief,” he wrote. “In Mr. Haugen’s case, you made no such judgment. Your action, in contrast, is more in the nature of an attempted nullification of a particular Oregon law. The Governor, under the Oregon Constitution, has no such power.”

The full 4-page letter from Haugen's lawyer to the Governor of Oregon is available at this link, and it is truly fascinating.  I would be very interested to hear legal and policy opinions on how officials and judges likely will and/or should respond to Haugen's claims.

March 14, 2012 at 04:55 PM | Permalink

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“There is strong legal authority supporting the idea that pardons, commutations, and reprieves are acts that must be based upon the Governor’s individualized judgment that a particular person deserves that relief,”

“In Mr. Haugen’s case, you made no such judgment. Your action, in contrast, is more in the nature of an attempted nullification of a particular Oregon law. The Governor, under the Oregon Constitution, has no such power.”--Harrison Latto

Attorney Latto makes a compellingly sound argument.

"Asserting that Oregon's death penalty system is "broken" and "a perversion of justice," Kitzhaber declared that he would allow no executions during the remainder of his current term."

A chief executive has overridden "a law voters put into the constitution"—The Oregonian Editorial Board 12/11/11

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 15, 2012 9:44:31 AM

This is a stunt. The state is under no obligation to actually perform an execution.

The morality of Kitzhaber's stance (and he has earned the white-hot hatred of Haugen's victims' families) is a different matter. Kitzhaber is a loathesome creature. He should be shunned.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 15, 2012 10:49:31 AM

If the people of the state don't want the executive to have the "individualized judgment" to do something of this sort, they could change the law to make it clear that s/he does not. It could require each individual case be decided separately. If this is not the rule now, the action here seems as legit as across the board pardons by the POTUS of war resisters or rebels in the 1860s.

The logic of the person's lawyer here (he "argues" the point, not merely "asserts") has some force as applied to him. But, death row inmates also have the bear such a possibility, even if it has individual negative effects. After all, if the governor merely decided his sentence could not be carried out for the length of his term, it would be quite "individualized" but still not help him under his logic.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 15, 2012 10:56:33 AM

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