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May 3, 2018

Oregon Supreme Court orders resentencing upon finding violation of crime victim's right to be heard at sentencing

The Supreme Court of Oregon handed down an interesting unanimous opinion yesterday concerning the rights of a victim at sentencing under the Oregon Constitution in Oregon v. Ball, 362 Or 807 (Or. May 2, 2018) (available here). Here is how the opinion gets started:

The Oregon Constitution provides that the victim of a crime has the right “to be heard at * ** sentencing.” Or Const, Art I, § 42(1)(a).  Appellant, who is a crime victim, filed a claim in the trial court, pursuant to ORS 147.515, alleging that the trial court violated her right to be heard when it sentenced the defendant who had committed crimes against her. Specifically, appellant alleged that the trial court violated her right to be heard when it interrupted her victim impact statement and when it later terminated the statement without warning or explanation.  The trial court denied the claim, and appellant brought this appeal, pursuant to ORS 147.535.

This case requires us to determine the scope of a crime victim’s constitutional right to be heard during a sentencing hearing.  As explained below, we hold that a trial court has the authority and responsibility to conduct a sentencing hearing in an orderly and expeditious manner and may exclude certain statements by victims, including those that are irrelevant, unfairly prejudicial, or cumulative.  In addition, a trial court may limit a victim impact statement if the victim disregards the trial court’s appropriate instructions regarding the content or length of the statement.  We further hold that, in this case, the trial court’s interruptions of appellant’s statement, which were for the permissible purpose of having appellant focus on the charged crimes and her own experiences with the defendant, did not violate appellant’s right to be heard.  However, the trial court’s termination of appellant’s statement, when appellant was discussing a relevant topic that was not outside the limits imposed by the trial court, did violate appellant’s right to be heard.  Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s decision denying appellant’s claim, vacate defendant’s sentence, and remand the case to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.

May 3, 2018 at 04:57 PM | Permalink


I am a strong supporter of victim's right but this case I fear shows the downside to that which is the some people will use their impact statements as a form of psychological therapy rather than as part of legal decision making process. I strongly suspect that they will be encouraged to do that by many of the professionals in the mental health professions as part of the "healing process". That's unfortunate. The judge here tried to do the right thing and got burned by an overly picky court. I suspect the appellate court has made matters worse, not better, in this area.

Posted by: Daniel | May 3, 2018 5:45:20 PM

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