July 02, 2021

Criminal Reform Justice Clinic Successfully Champions Legislation

Senate Bill 819 establishes a procedure where a district attorney and a person convicted of a felony may jointly petition the sentencing court for reconsideration of their conviction and/or sentence.

Senate Bill 819, one of the most important pieces of criminal justice reform legislation that Oregon has undertaken in a long time, passed in June 2021 at the request of the Lewis & Clark Law School Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC). Known as SB819, the bill establishes a procedure for people convicted of and sentenced for felony offenses to petition their sentencing court for reconsideration of their conviction/s or sentence/s if the original sentence no longer advances “the interests of justice.”

The CJRC, partnering with Multnomah County’s District Attorney’s Office and the Forensic Justice Project, has been championing this bill since last fall. Professor Aliza Kaplan explained the importance of the new law. “This bill will provide an avenue back into court for incarcerated people with wrongful convictions, disproportionate and excessive sentences, and those with serious medical issues and the elderly to name a few. Once a person is convicted, it can be almost impossible procedurally to get back into court and get another look at the case, even when the facts have changed, and even when the prosecutor themselves feels that justice was not served.

In a public hearing held on May 18th, Professor Kaplan and some of the Clinic’s clients testified in support of SB819.

CJRC student Bruce Myers (’20) and current law student Radhika Shah (’23) were directly involved in researching the issues involved in SB 819 and drafting testimony on this important bill. “I learned that a number of states created mechanisms for sentencing courts to reconsider sentences when they no longer serve the interests of justice. I was convinced that any meaningful remedy would require a legislative fix. Conducting some initial research for what has become SB819 was a great experience. I’m happy to see the incredible folks at the CJRC advocate for this important new law. I’m honored to have been a small part of making this law a reality,” shared Myers.

Law students Alexis Fisher (’21) and Todd Smith (’21) also did significant research, conducted a study, and wrote a report about discovery practices in Oregon which they incorporated in their testimonies to the legislature on SB 751. “Clinic students are getting hands-on experience about what it takes to pass legislation here in Oregon that creates real change,” said Kaplan. “It’s an incredible opportunity for law students who are committed to reforming the criminal justice system.”

The CJRC has been involved in a number of bills this past legislative session including:

SB751 - ‘Relating to pretrial discovery’

SB751 will modify the definition of “disclose” for purposes of discovery requirements in criminal cases and provides that exculpatory material or information must be disclosed to the defendant regardless of whether the material or information is recorded or in writing. This bill passed.

SB817 - ‘Relating to fees arising out of juvenile delinquency matters.

SB817 will eliminate fees and court costs associated with juvenile delinquency matters. This bill passed.

SB835 - ‘Relating to early medical release from prison; declaring an emergency; providing for criminal sentence reduction that requires approval by a the-thirds majority’

SB835 would modify procedures for the early medical release of adults in custody and would establish a Medical Release Advisory Committee within the State Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision. This bill did not pass.