A Book from the Library of Defense

Library Collections

Webinars & Podcasts


From OCDLA Library of Defense
Jump to: navigation, search

Don't Ask for Jury Instructions You Don't Want

by: Ryan Scott • July 16, 2024 • no comments

This is a small bit of advice that won't matter most of the time, but every now and then it might.

There are jury instructions given in every case. If you don't specifically want them, don't ask for them.

For example, in a kidnapping case, why ask for the standard instructions? Oh sure, you may want to modify those instructions. You may want to add additional instructions. But why ask for the standard ones? The state will ask for them. If you don't object, the judge will give them.

Why does it matter? Because let's say by the time your case is briefed, the appellate courts have ruled that the standard instruction is wrong. You didn't preserve the argument, which happens. Maybe it was a genuinely unexpected change, which somebody else preserved but didn't tell anyone else about. The appellate attorney in your case nevertheless briefs the issue as plain error. There's no dispute it's error. There's no dispute it's harmful. So your client wins, right? Not if you invited error. And how would you have invited error? You specifically asked for the erroneous instruction.

Would the COA agree that it was invited error? I don't know. But you could avoid that by not asking for the state's instructions. And if nothing else, it's less work.

Can sentencing arguments that don't win still impact the overall sentence?

by: Ryan Scott • July 14, 2024 • no comments

Judges really don't like being reversed. I base this on the fact that judges who were rarely reversed and who I thought wouldn't have cared about the occasional, inevitable reversal will still complain about it when it does happen.

Consequently, I believe it's always a good thing at any sentencing to have the judge take into account the possibility that even if I'm wrong about the law, there's a chance the COA will think I'm right.

What am I talking about? Let me provide a couple of examples. If you've read many of my blog posts, or read me on the defense lawyer listserve, you know that I believe that when the gun minimum is charged on multiple counts, it must be imposed on the primary offense and only the primary offense. For example, if the defendant is charged with murder with a firearm and felon in possession of a firearm with a firearm, the gun minimum of five years must be imposed on the murder charge (assumingf it's the first gun minimum that defendant has ever faced -- if it's the second gun minimum, it gets a little complicated, in some ways good for the defendant, in other ways bad.) (Why does it matter if it's imposed on the murder charge or, say, the felon in possession? Because if imposed on the felon in possession, the judge has the ability to impose a longer sentence than if it's imposed on the murder charge.)

I have argued this at the trial level, and no judge has expressly said I'm right about the law, but some of them haven't said I was wrong either. The judge simply chose to impose the gun minimum on the most serious count, simply because they wanted to (or so they said) and not because I told them they legally had to. From a judge's point of view, this had the advantage of avoiding the possibility of reversible error. At the same time, it didn't bind them to a legal outcome they would have to follow in future cases.

I personally think in some of the cases at least, the judge was motivated in part to avoid reversible error. Maybe not. There's no way to know for certain. (Incidentally, this issue has been preserved in a number of cases by a number of great attorneys, so we should have a definitive answer within two years.)

I want to give another example of a legal argument that didn't win, yet maybe influenced the outcome of a sentencing. I had a client back for re-sentencing. He was already servicing a life/25 sentence for murder, but that case wasn't back for re-sentencing. It was a separate case in which he got twenty years to be served consecutively to the murder charge that was back for re-sentencing.

As it turned out, the client had done great in prison. Truly impressive stuff. I used that information to argue why she shouldn't run twenty years consecutively to the murder sentence. But I also argued at re-sentencing that any sentence run consecutively to a murder charge was subject to the proportionality analysis under Article I, section 16, of the Oregon Constitution. Specifically, I noted that my client wouldn't serve any of the consecutive sentence unless the parole board had found his rehabilitation was imminent. (And they would likely make that finding, given how well he had done in the past ten years, but who knows.) If Article I, section 16, requires that courts take into account the personal characteristics of the defendant when determining the constitutionality of the long sentence, the fact that rehabilitation is imminent certainly should impact whether the additional twenty years was proportionate.

On the law, the judge disagreed. But she only ran eight years consecutively to the life/25 he was already serving, a substantial reduction to what she had imposed the first time around. Was it due entirely to my client's remarkable accomplishments while in prison? Or did she worry that an additional twenty-year sentence might trigger the proportionality analysis and have the case sent back for a third sentencing? Or was it simply that she recognized the absurdity -- even if it were constitutional -- of adding another twenty years to be served -- and only served -- after the defendant was rehabilitated?

That last question is key. Even if I'm wrong about the application of Article I, section 16, in that situation, there is something totally absurd about a lengthy sentence that's only served after rehabiliation. Even my pro-prosecution, non-lawyer family members think that's crazy.

Again, there is no way of knowing why the judge reduced the sentence or if she would have reduced it to the same degree minus the proportionality argument. That's sorta my point. Judges may reject legal arguments but still be swayed, by either the logic of the legal argument or the risk of reversal, to end up at the same place.

And if the legal arguments don't seem to make a difference at all at sentencing, then at least your client has a shot at re-sentencing, which, per my first post today, can also lead to a much better outcome down the road.

Resentencing Observations

by: Ryan Scott • July 14, 2024 • no comments

This is the first of two blog posts I want to write today regarding sentencing.

I've handled my share of re-sentencings, sometimes after I handled the original sentencing, sometimes when I hadn't. The observation I most want to make is that judges often won't impose the same sentence even when they could.

That hasn't always been true in my cases but it's been more true than not. The reasons vary. One is that the defendant has done very well in prison and there is a record of it. Other times it is because the defendant is able to express remorse that they weren't able to right after the trial. At least one time I think it was merely because enough time had passed that the judge had forgotten what it was about the trial that caused her to impose a sentence out of anger or pique. Without that emotion behind it, the sentence came back down to earth.

It's impossible to know how much of a role I played, but I did a lot of work in all of those cases. I never treated a re-sentencing as pro forma, except when there really was only one sentence the court could impose at re-sentencing. But more likely, re-sentencings that went well probably did so because of the defendant and things they had done since the original sentencing.

My second observation is this. It wasn't always predictable which clients would do well in prison. I was often surprised by the clients who did truly wonderful and impressive things while incarcerated.

Have these observations changed my practice in any way? Not that I've noticed, but it has reaffirmed my belief in the importance of making as many legal arguments at sentencing as possible, even if the benefit of winning isn't always obvious. So, for example, I'll argue for merger of UUW and Murder with a Firearm. In such cases where merger is appropriate, the merger won't reduce the overall sentence because separate sentences would run concurrently. But by making the argument, either (1) the trial judge will agree and my client will have one less conviction, which is always better than more convictions, or (2) the judge will disagree and if the COA says I'm right, my client will have a shot at a re-sentencing that, if they've done well or the law has otherwise changed in their favor, might reduce their sentence.

(In theory, any re-sentencing on a murder charge might have no chance at reducing the original sentence, if the judge ran all counts concurrently to the mandatory murder sentence, but in my experience, most judges are constitutionally incapable of not tacking on an additional sentence to run consecutively to even a life/25 sentence. There must be some additional cost for going to trial.)

I think there are lawyers who are hesitant to make legal arguments at sentencing, murder sentencings in particular. They want the focus to be on a just and fair sentence, and arguing about the statutes will distract from their argument why life/25 is more than sufficient to satisfy the ends of justice. I think this attitude constitutes gross malpractice, and fortunately I think it's relatively rare. But if you are inclined to think that way, just submit a sentencing memorandum with all the legal arguments, tell the court as to those arguments you're standing on your brief, and then make all the non-legal arguments you want to focus on.

Post-Rahimi update on UPF (Portland City Code)

by: Ryan Scott • July 3, 2024 • no comments

A few months ago, in a blog post at this website, I argued that the Portland City Code prohibition on the open carry of loaded firearms was the statute most likely to fail in light of SCOTUS's Bruen opinion. Now that SCOTUS has dramatically walked back parts of Bruen in United States v. Rahimi, does that change my analysis?

No. There are two things to remember about the city code provision:

(1) it applies to the public generally and not those who may be dangerous

(2) as noted by Bruen, open carry was generally permitted at the time of the 2nd Amendment and often prohibitions of open carry were struck down as violations of the 2nd Amendment.

As for (1), in upholding the law in Rahimi, the Supreme Court noted that § 922(g)(8)(i) is a “focused regulation[],” not a “broad prohibitory regime as in Bruen." Id. at 15. Furthermore, unlike the regulation struck down in Bruen, Section 922(g)(8) does not "broadly restrict arms use by the public generally."

As for (2), see just this one example from Bruen, fn 16: "Beginning in 1813 with Kentucky, six States (five of which were in the South) enacted laws prohibiting the concealed carry of pistols by 1846. See 1813 Ky. Acts §1, p. 100; 1813 La. Acts p. 172; 1820 Ind. Acts p. 39; Ark. Rev. Stat. §13, p. 280 (1838); 1838 Va. Acts ch. 101, §1, p. 76; 1839 Ala. Acts no. 77, §1. During this period, Georgia enacted a law that appeared to prohibit both concealed and open carry, see 1837 Ga. Acts §§1, 4, p. 90, but the Georgia Supreme Court later held that the prohibi�tion could not extend to open carry consistent with the Second Amendment. See infra, at 45–46. Between 1846 and 1859, only one other State, Ohio, joined this group. 1859 Ohio Laws §1, p. 56. Tennessee, mean�while, enacted in 1821 a broader law that prohibited carrying, among other things, “belt or pocket pistols, either public or private,” except while traveling. 1821 Tenn. Acts ch. 13, §1, p. 15. And the Territory of Florida prohibited concealed carry during this same timeframe. See 1835 Terr. of Fla. Laws p. 423.

As noted, the Portland City Code prohibits open carry and it applies to anyone, either of which should be sufficient to strike the law down.

The constitutionality of the law has already been briefed and it waiting on oral argument at the Court of Appeals. There's just no reason not to file a constitutional challenge to the city code, even if, as is often the case, it's the least significant charge in the indictment.

And of course you want to file a motion to suppress, if the open carry is the reason (1) the gun was seized, (2) the reason your client was arrested, or (3) the reason your client was searched, and any of those things resulted in additional evidence.

One side note about felon in possession. Please, please, please make an as-applied argument when you can, putting on evidence that your client is not dangerous, not merely because of the non-violent nature of the underlying felony but also those aspects of your client's life that are consistent with non-dangerousness (e.g., length of time since conviction, employment, family, lack of restraining orders, even lack of traffic tickets to show how law-abiding they are). I already was on record stressing the importance of as-applied challenges, but there are parts of Rahimi (in particular Gorsuch's concurring opinion) that have reinforced my opinion quite a bit.

Narrowing Broadly Written Statutes (sex crime edition)

by: Ryan Scott • May 29, 2024 • no comments

Assume a statute says either party can do X. That means you can do X, right?

Maybe. Some statutes are very poorly drafted, and what the statute says you can do isn't exactly what the legislature intended when they passed the statute.

On April 11th of this year, the Oregon Supreme Court dealt with this in the context of felony computer crime. The case was State v. Azar. This statute is very broadly written. And it was written in the mid-80s, when the legislature would have had no understanding of how computers would be a part of our daily lives forty years later. So while it's true that the legislature will sometimes intend to address an issue with a statute that covers far more ground than the specific issue they are trying to address, nevertheless, it's hard to argue that they intended it to cover ground they couldn't even imagine.

Consequently, there are times when it is necessary to look at the legislative history to determine whether the legislature in fact intended something far less than the face of the statute would seem to allow. To put it another way, if certain behavior appears to be criminal based on the face of the statute, sometimes you have to look below the surface to see if that behavior is in fact what the legislature intended to make criminal.

We resolve that question under the framework set out in State v. Gaines, 346 Or 160, 206 P3d 1042 (2009). Our goal is to determine the intent of the legislature that enacted that provision. Id. at 171. In making that determination, we consider the disputed statutory text in context, together with any available legislative history that we find helpful. Id. at 172. If a statute's intended meaning remains unclear to us following our examination of its text, context, and legislative history, we may turn to general maxims of statutory interpretation for additional guidance. See, e.g., Chaimov v. Dept. of Admin. Services, 370 Or 382, 398 n 7, 520 P3d 406 (2022) (noting limited circumstances in which it may be appropriate for courts to consider general maxims of statutory interpretation).

Azar at ____.

As you may note, Gaines was passed in 2009. Prior to then, if the statute wasn't facially ambiguous, you couldn't dive into the legislature history. You were stuck with the face of the statute.

Getting back to my original question. Statute says you can do X. But whether you can do the specific thing you want to do, you have to ask yourself, is this specific thing what the legislature intended to allow you to do?

Which brings us to the child hearsay exception to the hearsay rule.

→ continue reading...

4th Theory of Merger

by: Ryan Scott • May 8, 2024 • no comments


Lesser-Included Offenses

This has a lot of overlap with the Third Theory of Merger. Examples #3 and #4 immediately above would also arguably fall into this section, but generally when we think of lesser-included offenses, we think of assault IV as a lesser-included of assault III or assault II for example.

A crime is a lesser-included offense if it includes all but one or two of the elements of the higher offense and does not contain any additional elements.

Generally, robbery in the second degree (purporting to have, for example, a firearm) is not a lesser-included offense of robbery in the first degree (armed with a deadly weapon) because the former offense has an element the latter offense does not (that is, displaying or pretending to display a dangerous weapon). But robbery in the second degree might be converted into a lesser-included offense if the robbery in the first degree count includes the additional allegation of “with a firearm.”

Example #1: Reckless burning can be a lesser-included offense of arson. State v. Leckenby, 200 Or App 684 (2005).

3rd Theory of Merger

by: Ryan Scott • May 8, 2024 • no comments


Crimes that are (1) Related but have (2) Different Elements from Different Statutory Provisions.

An uncommon one, but pops up occasionally. It’s basically where the elements of one crime – though from a different statutory provision – subsume the elements of the other crime. Might not qualify as a lesser-included offense since it isn’t always a “lesser” offense, but crimes of the same seriousness. See below for an example where all the elements of the more serious offense are contained in the less-serious offense.

Example #1: Intimidation in the Second Degree and Menacing. State v. Black, 320 Or App 263 (2022)

Example #2: Unlawful Use of a Vehicle and Possession of a Stolen Vehicle. State v. Noe, 256 P3d 166 (2011). But note the elements of UUV have changed in some circumstances, so this may no longer be true in all circumstances.

Example #3: Murder with a Firearm and UUW with a Firearm. Murder and UUW would not merge, because UUW has an element murder does not (the use of a dangerous weapon). But the additional allegation of “with a firearm” (which is considered an element of the offense) may supply the missing elements and therefore compel merger. In theory, UUW could merge with other crimes where “with a firearm” is alleged (e.g., robbery in the first or second degree), as long as the other conditions are met (including same victim.) This may also depend whether the theory the state relies on for UUW includes “use or attempted use” of a dangerous or deadly weapon, or whether the state’s theory is exclusively “possession with intent to use.” The latter may be enough to defeat merger, since a person can use a weapon without possession it.

Example #4: Criminal Mistreatment and Assault (depends on the theories involved. See State v. Smith, 229 Or App 518 (2009)

Example #5: Identity Theft and Fraudulent Use of a Credit Card

Weird one. All the elements of ID Theft (a C felony) are contained in FUCC (an A misdemeanor). But when they merge, they stay a felony. State v. Haddon, 286 Or App 191 (2017)

In sum, proof of the elements of fraudulent use of a credit card proves the elements of the offense of identity theft, in the forms in which the offenses were alleged in this case. At least as is alleged here, identity theft does not require proof of an element that is not already included in fraudulent use of a credit card. Therefore, the trial court erred in failing to merge the separate guilty verdicts in each of those pairs of offenses (Counts 1 and 3; Counts 2 and 4). That is, the pair of offenses occurring on the first date should merge; the pair of offenses occurring on the second date should merge.

Defendant requests that the court vacate her convictions and sentences for misdemeanor fraudulent use of a credit card. We agree that the offenses merge into the more serious offense but describe the disposition more appropriately. State v. Cloutier, 286 Or. 579, 600, 596 P.2d 1278 (1979) (entry of conviction is for "the most serious of the offenses of which the defendant was guilty").

PRACTICE TIP: Argue that Cloutier is no longer good law and that it would violate vertical proportionality (State v. Simonson, 243 Or App 535 (2011)) to impose a felony sentence, when the “greater offense” is a misdemeanor.

2nd Theory of Merger

by: Ryan Scott • May 8, 2024 • no comments


Multiple Counts involving (1) Same Criminal Episode, (2) Slightly Different Elements, (3) Same Statutory Provision

Example #1: Two counts of theft in the first degree merge, even if the elements are different, as long as the other requirements are met, because different means of committing theft doesn’t indicate a legislative intent to reflect separate statutory provisions. State v. Slatton, 268 Or App 556 (2015). This can include, for example, theft by taking and theft by selling.

Same is true for different counts of robbery in the second degree based on different theories (e.g., aided by another and purport to have dangerous weapon) or kidnapping, if the counts are based on different theories. Generally speaking, if the title of the crime is the same, then it will be from the same statutory provision, though not always. Different degrees of crime (i.e., first versus second degree) are generally not from the same statutory provision. If they are from the same statutory provision, the facts still need to satisfy all the other conditions required for merger (one criminal episode, one victim, no sufficient pause.)

But be aware of this limitation to merger contained in ORS 161.067(3):

Each method of engaging in oral or anal sexual intercourse as defined in ORS 163.305, and each method of engaging in unlawful sexual penetration as defined in ORS 163.408 and 163.411 shall constitute separate violations of their respective statutory provisions for purposes of determining the number of statutory violations.

1st Theory of Merger

by: Ryan Scott • May 8, 2024 • no comments

There are four ways that multiple guilty verdicts can result in a single conviction. I will do a brief post on each.


ORS 161.067 Determining punishable offenses for violation of multiple statutory provisions, multiple victims or repeated violations. (1) When the same conduct or criminal episode violates two or more statutory provisions and each provision requires proof of an element that the others do not, there are as many separately punishable offenses as there are separate statutory violations.


Multiple Counts of (1) Same Crime, (2) Same Elements, (3) Same Criminal Episode, (4) Same Victim

Example #1: Multiple counts of misdemeanor assault IV against one person. All guilty verdicts merge into a single conviction.

They presumptively merge, because none of the anti-merger requirements listed in ORS 161.067(1) are satisfied. However, if one assault is divided from the others by a “sufficient pause,” that can defeat merger under ORS 161.067(3):

(3) When the same conduct or criminal episode violates only one statutory provision and involves only one victim, but nevertheless involves repeated violations of the same statutory provision against the same victim, there are as many separately punishable offenses as there are violations, except that each violation, to be separately punishable under this subsection, must be separated from other such violations by a sufficient pause in the defendant’s criminal conduct to afford the defendant an opportunity to renounce the criminal intent. . . .

What constitutes a sufficient pause?

A "sufficient pause" within the meaning of ORS 161.067(3) occurs when there is "a temporary or brief cessation of a defendant's criminal conduct that occurs between repeated violations and is so marked in scope or quality that it affords a defendant the opportunity to renounce his or her criminal intent." State v. Huffman, 234 Or App 177, 184, 227 P3d 1206 (2010). Before separate convictions can be imposed, "one crime must end before another begins." Id. at 185, 227 P.3d 1206 (quoting State v. Barnum, 333 Or 297, 303, 39 P3d 178 (2002), overruled on other grounds by State v. White, 341 Or 624, 147 P3d 313 (2006)). "Thus, to support the entry of multiple convictions for the same offense under ORS 161.067(3), one crime must end 414*414 before another begins and each crime must be separated from the others by a sufficient pause in the defendant's criminal conduct to afford him an opportunity to renounce his criminal intent." State v. West-Howell, 282 Or App. 393, 397-98, 385 P3d 1121 (2016), rev. den., 361 Or 312, 393 P3d 1173 (2017) (emphasis in original).

Consequently, if you take example #1, and the trial court finds a sufficient pause between the assaults, the counts do not merge (although they are still from the same criminal episode.) The Court of Appeals rarely finds evidence of sufficient pause, but one example of a trial judge making such a finding that was upheld after appellate review is State v. Aitken, 255 Or App 17 (2013).

PRACTICE TIP: Is a finding of a sufficient pause a Blakely element? After all, the way the statute is written, it appears to be a finding that must be made to increase the number of convictions against the defendant. While we think of Blakely elements as factors that increase the sentence, it seems the jury trial right to determine the number of convictions is even more constitutionally rooted. You can preserve this argument at sentencing, noting the state’s failure to (1) give notice and (2) submit the question of a sufficient pause to the jury. The Oregon Supreme Court has rejected the idea that generally a finding of separate criminal episodes is a Blakely finding in State v. Cuevas, 358 Or 147 (2015). But see State v. Thornsberry, 315 Or App 287 (2021) for an exception to that rule, which might be a better analog to a finding of a sufficient pause.

Example #2: Multiple counts of sexual abuse in the first degree, each alleging a different body part. Different body parts are not the same as different elements. They should merge absent a sufficient pause. State v. Nelson, 282 Or App 427 (2016)

Example #3: Multiple charges of felon in possession of a firearm, due to multiple guns. Merge, under State v. Ferguson, 276 Or App 267 (2016).

Example #4: Multiple charges of identity theft, based on possession of multiple fake documents. As in example #3, these should merge if they involve the same victim. Different names will often suggest different victims, but keep in mind identify theft can involve “imaginary” or “dead” people. Imaginary and dead people cannot be victims, so try to find out if they really exist or at least note the state’s failure, when appropriate, to prove they do.

Example #5: Multiple counts of Encouraging Child Sexual Abuse do not merge because the images received over the internet usually show different children, which is enough for a finding of separate victims. But at the time the crime of ECSA was committed (that is, when the defendant took possession of the images), there is usually no evidence that the children are still alive. If they are dead, they cannot be victims. Has the state proven separate victims if they cannot prove the children are still alive? This is a sad, creepy argument, but probably correct under the law. It will take a lot of pushing to get the appellate courts to address it however.

NOTE: There is no such thing as “merger for sentencing.” Counts either merge into a single conviction or they don’t. If the issue is whether the counts can be run consecutively, that is an entirely different question. State v. White, 346 Or 275, 279 n 4 (2009).

Felony Computer Crime

by: Ryan Scott • April 11, 2024 • no comments

Today, the Oregon Supreme Court issued an opinion in State v. Azar. The split opinion significantly narrowed the scope of one particular theory of felony computer crime. Even if you don't have a felony computer crime case, it is worth reading -- both the majority opinion and the dissent -- on the circumstances in which legislative history can narrow the scope of an otherwise broadly written statute.

And the opinion also suggests a potential defense to theft by selling in (of course) a footnote.

2 Under ORS 164.095(1),“[a] person commits theft by receiving if the person receives, retains, conceals or disposes of property of another knowing or having good reason to know that the property was the subject of theft.”
Although “disposes” is not defined by statute, defendant does not dispute that selling property that a person knows or should know is stolen constitutes theft by receiving. See State v. Farmer, 44 Or App 157, 160, 605 P2d 716 (1980) (reaching that conclusion based upon ORS 164.055(1)(c), which provides that theft by receiving constitutes theft in the first degree when “committed by buying, selling, borrowing or lending on the security of the property”). We assume for purposes of the present discussion that selling stolen property with the requisite mental state constitutes theft by receiving, but we express no opinion on when in the course of a transaction an online sale qualifies as “dispos[ing],” whether at the time of the sale, at the time the property is physically transferred, or at some other time. [Emphasis added.]

If I understand the point of this footnote, the Court is saying that selling stolen property is not necessarily "disposing of the property," and therefore not necessarily theft-by-receiving, until the property is transferred in some way. So, for example, entering into an agreement to sell stolen property, or even receiving money for said property, may not constitute theft-by-receiving until the property is delivered.

I don't anticipate many situations where this would arise, but if it does, citing that footnote at MJOA might make you look like a genius.

A Gun Minimum Sentencing Hack

by: Ryan Scott • March 31, 2024 • no comments

I had previously had a blog post where I argued that the first time a gun minimum is imposed, it must be imposed on the most serious offense to which the gun minimum was attached. Therefore, if a defendant is charged with murder with a firearm and felon in possession of a firearm, the gun minimum must be imposed on the murder (where, admittedly, it would have no effect.)

However, is there a time when you'd want the gun minimum imposed on a later count, despite the law? That is, where it's something you'd rather negotiate for. Yes.

First, if the state seeks to impose prison on one count and probation on the other, imposing the gun minimum on the non-prison count would likely increase the availability of sentence-reduction programs (AIP, transitional leave) that would not be available on a prison sentence with the gun minimum finding, even if the gun minimum is not imposed.

Second, even if the defendant is looking at prison on both counts, putting the gun minimum sentence on a non-M11 count may allow a greater reduction for earned time.

For example, assume defendant reaches a deal where he is going to be sentenced to attempted murder and felon in possession. Both allege the gun minimum, and it's the defendant's second gun minimum, so he is looking at 10 years mandatory. If the gun minimum is imposed on the attempted murder, the defendant's 120 month sentence would have 90 months subject to ballot measure 11 and therefore without earned time. The defendant could get earned time on remaining thirty months. Assuming all earned credits are in fact earned, the defendant would serve a sentence of 114 months. But if the defendant receives 90 months on the attempted murder charge and 120 months on the charge of felon in possession of a firearm to run concurrently, the defendant would get earned time on all 120 months, thereby reducing his total time to 96 months. (120-24). This is not speculation. Samson v. Brown, 486 P. 3d 59 (2021)

Special Jury Instructions for Kidnapping

by: Ryan Scott • January 12, 2024 • no comments

THIS POST HAS BEEN AMENDED. In my opinion, one thing that sets a great defense lawyer apart from a good defense lawyer is the quality of their special jury instructions.

Special jury instructions have a number of advantages. If given, they can put the weight of judicial authority behind your argument. It's not just you saying what the state needs to prove, for example. It's what the judge is saying. If the instruction is not given, the standard of review on appeal is very defense-friendly. To obtain a reversal on an ungiven special jury instruction, you need the instruction to be a correct statement of the law and any evidence in the record that would justify it. This is the reverse of the standard of review for MJOA, where the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the state. (To be precise, it's also important that the instruction is not only a correct statement of the law but also is not unduly slanted toward the defendant.)

When are jury instructions most valuable? Usually when the statute is broadly written, but either the legislature or the case law has narrowed the scope of the statute. That happened with the crime of kidnapping, for example. Back in 2017, I spoke at a conference in Portland and recommended -- among many other things -- the following special jury instructions:

→ continue reading...

A Common Mistake Among Minor Felony Attorneys

by: Ryan Scott • December 10, 2023 • no comments

One longstanding argument is that the way the laws are written, a person's ODL should not be suspended because of a conviction for either unlawful use of a vehicle or possession of a stolen vehicle. The reasoning is simple. The law allows a suspension if an element of the crime includes a "motor vehicle." Neither UUV or PSV have an element that specifies "motor" vehilce, and the fact that the crime may have involved a motor vehicle doesn't make "motor vehicle" an element of the crime.

As far as I know, this issue hasn't made it to the Court of Appeals. Part of the reason for that is that certain prosecutors have conceded the issue. Part is that some defense attorneys aren't aware of the issue. Another reason, I suspect, is that even defense attorneys who are aware of the issue decide it's not worth fighting over when the defendant is going to get a two or three-year prison sentence and the license suspension is only for a year. No driving in prison, anyway.

Except that if the trial judge does impose a license suspension of one year, even if the suspension order indicates that the suspension will begin at the time of sentencing, DMV won't actually suspend the license until the defendant is freed from prison, adding to the hardship that comes with leaving prison. The more hardship, the increasing likelihood the defendant will recidivate.

If you want to help your clients stay crime-free when they get out of prison, argue against the license suspension and if you lose, send the issue up to appeal. It won't just be your client who benefits.

Unreasonable Self-Defense

by: Ryan Scott • December 10, 2023 • no comments

If a defendant properly raises a claim of self-defense, the state must disprove that defense. The jury will be instructed as follows:

A person is justified in using physical force on another person to defend herself from what she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force. In defending, a person may only use that degree of force which she reasonably believes to be necessary. The burden of proof is on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defense does not apply.

But what if a person believes they are acting in self-defense but their belief is unreasonable? The state will argue the defense does not apply. But is someone who intentionally kills someone no more morally culpable than someone who kills out of an unreasonable misapprehension of the need to defend themselves? Should the law recognize a difference between the two?

Arguably, the law already does so, albeit indirectly. You might be able to get there by applying a mental state to the element of self-defense. All material elements for crimes in the criminal code have mental states barring express language from the legislature. "Not acting in self-defense" is an element (i.e., something the state must prove in order to obtain a conviction.)

For more on this argument, please e-mail me directly.

Threatening to Go And Get a Gun: Is That UUW?

by: Ryan Scott • December 5, 2023 • no comments

If I point a gun at you in a menacing way, that will likely constitute the crime of Unlawful Use of a Weapon, barring any defenses. But what if I tell you that if you don't leave my neighborhood, I'm going to go inside, get a gun, and then come back out and shoot you? Is that UUW?

Here's what the Oregon Supreme Said about the subject, when tasked with deciding whether the "use" in UUW encompassed threatening someone with a firearm.

The problem with both arguments is that they neglect to distinguish between threatening to use a weapon and using a weapon as a threat. The two are not—or at least, not necessarily—the same. One may threaten to use a weapon without ever touching it, as when, for example, a person says to another, "If you do not give me your money, I will get my gun and shoot you." That does not constitute a current "use" of a weapon, as it is a threat to use it sometime in the future. In contrast, one also may use a weapon as a threat, as when one person points a gun at another and says, "Give me your money." In a sense, that is a threat to use the weapon in the future; there is an implicit warning that, if the money is not forthcoming, the gun will be fired. But—and this is key—it is also a current use of the weapon as a threat.

State v. Ziska, 355 Or 799, 808, 334 P3d 964 (2014)

Pointing a Firearm is Not Use of Deadly Force

by: Ryan Scott • December 4, 2023 • no comments

More than once, I've had cases where the defendant was charged with unlawful use of a weapon for pointing a firearm at a trespasser. The prosecutor initially believed that even if the defendant reasonably believed he was acting in defense of his property, his actions were unlawful because you cannot use deadly force to protect property.

You may already see the problem. Threatening the use of deadly force is not the actual use of deadly force. Consequently, the limitation on defense of property -- you can't use deadly force -- does not apply when the deadly force is merely threatened.

Don't take my word for it.

Pointing a firearm at someone does not constitute the use of deadly force. State v. Burns, 15 Or App 552, 562, 516 P2d 748 (1973)(With respect to self defense, and limitations on the use of self defense, "the threat of deadly force does not constitute the use of deadly physical force."); State v. Taylor, 182 Or App. 243, 48 P3d 182 (2002)

Consequently, when a defendant has merely pointed a firearm, and is claiming self-defense, it is error to instruct the jury on the “limitations of use of deadly force.” Taylor, 182 Or App at 248 (“We further conclude, under Burns, that the trial court erred in giving the instruction because there was no evidence that defendant actually used deadly physical force.”

In Taylor, a firearm was pointed but not discharged. The defendant claimed self-defense. The jury was instructed on the limitations of deadly force. As in Taylor, giving the instruction was error.

The Taylor court also found the error was not harmless. It agreed with defendant’s argument, which it quoted as follows:

"By giving an instruction about the use of deadly physical force, the trial court suggested to the jury that it could find defendant had used such force, when, legally, it could not. This could have confused the jury and prejudiced defendant. If the jury improperly found that defendant had used deadly physical force, it would have assessed the legality of his actions in light of the limitations on the use of such force. It would have subjected defendant's actions to a more stringent test to determine whether they were legally justified."

Taylor, 182 Or App At 248.

Anyway, I mention this, because this particular error may not be common, but they do happen, and I'm guessing I'm not the only defense attorney who's had a client in that situation.

It usually takes awhile before issues of first impression start winning. This is the exception.

by: Ryan Scott • November 15, 2023 • no comments

Everyone knows my favorite legal issues involve arguments that aren't the law . . . yet. I have a personal list of arguments that I promoted that initially met with great resistance from the courts, prosecutors and other defense lawyers. Not all defense lawyers, but a lot. The most common argument I hear is that a number of defense lawyers are concerned that if they argue an issue that isn't firmly rooted in case law, they lose credibility with the judge. I disagree, for any number of reasons, but I've heard the argument enough that I know it's a real thing.

But one issue I came up with last year won the first time it was argued and it hasn't stopped. Unfortunately, it's something that -- in many cases -- the state can fix, and they've started doing so. But there are exceptions and often those exceptions arise in cases back from the appeal or PCR, and if properly raised, the issue can substantially undermine the state's case.

→ continue reading...

A Ballistics Test is a Search

by: Ryan Scott • November 10, 2023 • no comments

Assume your client is arrested and his firearm is seized. There wasn't a warrant, just PC to seize the firearm. The police subsequently perform a ballistics test on the firearm and connect the firearm to earlier shootings. In that situation, you absolutely should move to suppress the ballistics test and all evidence that flowed from it. The reasons are as follows:

→ continue reading...

The Portland City Code and Unlawful Possession of a Firearm

by: Ryan Scott • November 5, 2023 • no comments

Since the Bruen opinion from the United States Supreme Court, there have been 2nd Amendment challenges to felon in possession of a firearm (both facial and as-applied), felon in possession of body armor, unlawful possession of a concealed weapon and many more. Each of these has a chance of being successful and some in fact have been successful in certain federal courts. Nothing of course is guaranteed. However, there is one argument where I believe the odds are overwhelmingly in our favor. And that's a challenge to the Portland City Code's prohibition on carrying a loaded weapon.

The key thing to know about the Portland City Code is that it prohibits open carry, as well as concealed carry. Why does that matter? See this quote from Bruen.

In the early to mid-19th century, some States began enacting laws that proscribed the concealed carry of pistols and other small weapons. As we recognized in Heller, “the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that [these] prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues.” 554 U S, 30 at 626, 128 S Ct 2783, 171 L Ed. 2d 637. Respondents unsurprisingly cite these statutes—and decisions upholding them—as evidence that States were historically free to ban public carry.
In fact, however, the history reveals a consensus that States could not ban public carry altogether. Respondents’ cited opinions agreed that concealed carry prohibitions were constitutional only if they did not similarly prohibit open carry. That was true in Alabama. See State v. Reid, 1 Ala. 612, 616, 619-621 (1840). It was also true in Louisiana. See State v. Chandler, 5 La. 489, 490 (1850). Kentucky, meanwhile, went one step further—the State Supreme Court invalidated a concealed-carry prohibition. See Bliss v. Commonwealth, 12 Ky. 9 (1822). The Georgia Supreme Court’s decision in Nunn v. State, 1 Ga. 243 (1846), is particularly instructive. Georgia’s 1837 statute broadly prohibited “wearing” or “carrying” pistols “as arms of offence or defence,” without distinguishing between concealed and open carry. 1837 Ga. Acts 90, §1. To the extent the 1837 Act prohibited “carrying certain weapons secretly,” the court explained, it was “valid.” Nunn, 1 Ga., at 251. But to the extent the Act also prohibited “bearing arms openly,” the court went on, it was “in conflict with the Constitutio[n] and void.” Ibid.; see also Heller, 554 U. S., at 612, 128 S. Ct. 2783, 171 L. Ed. 2d 637. The Georgia Supreme Court’s treatment of the State’s general prohibition on the public carriage of handguns indicates that it was considered beyond the constitutional pale in antebellum America to altogether prohibit public carry.
Finally, we agree that Tennessee’s prohibition on carrying “publicly or privately” any “belt or pocket pisto[l],” 1821 Tenn. Acts ch. 13, p. 15, was, on its face, uniquely severe, see Heller, 554 U. S., at 629, 128 S. Ct. 2783, 171 L. Ed. 2d 637. That said, when the Tennessee Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of a substantively identical successor provision, see 1870 Tenn. Acts ch. 13, §1, p. 28, the court read this language to permit the public carry of larger, military-style pistols because any categorical prohibition on their carry would “violat[e] the constitutional right to keep arms.” Andrews v. State, 50 Tenn. 165, 187 (1871); see also Heller, 554 U. S., at 629, 128 S. Ct. 2783, 171 L. Ed. 2d 637 (discussing Andrews). All told, these antebellum state-court decisions evince a consensus view that States could not altogether prohibit the public carry of “arms” protected by the Second Amendment or state analogues.

N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass'n v. Bruen, 142 S Ct 2111, 2146-2147, 213 L Ed 2d 387, 35 427-429 (2022) [Emphasis added.]

Bruen put the burden on the state to prove the existence of a historical analog to any modern-day firearm prohibition. The good news for the state is that there are plenty of examples of antebellum statutes regarding the open carry of firearms. The bad news for the state is that they were all found unconstitutional.

I highly encourage defense lawyers to raise this argument. More than any other firearm prohibition, this one is likely to be found unconstitutional.

The Mens Rea for Felony Murder of a Child

by: Ryan Scott • November 4, 2023 • no comments

UPDATE: The AG's office did in fact petition for a writ of mandamus on this issue. The defendant wrote a response. And the Oregon Supreme Court declined to take up the case. What does this mean? Technically, nothing. An Oregon Supreme Court's decision not to take up a petition has no precedential value. But in reality, when raised squarely on a murder case where the issue was squarely preserved, it means they didn't think the AG's argument had enough merit to warrant further briefing. If you've got one of these cases -- felony murder of a child arising out of the assault of the child -- reach out to me. Legislative intent is very favorable, and it appears that at least a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court agree.

End Update.

This is going to be a very short post on a very complicated issue. Really more of an update.

Assume a horrible accusation. The defendant is accused of assaulting a child, and the child dies as a result. To be guilty of "felony murder" in this situation, as opposed to a straight murder, the defendant does not need to intend the death of the child. But does the defendant have to at least know they are causing serious physical injury? Or is negligence enough, i.e., they fail to be aware of a substantial risk of causing serious physical injury?

Post-Owen/Shiffer cases, the state will argue that the answer is "negligence." But Owen and Shiffer involved the Assault II and criminal mistreatment statutes where the legislative intent was unknown. Consequently, Owen and Shiffer are good cases for determining what attorneys and courts should do when the legislative intent is unknown -- at least in the context of assault -- but they tell us nothing about what to do when the legislative intent is clear.

And they don't need to. If the legislative intent is clear, then we go with what the legislature intended. Pretty fundamental principle.

In this case, the legislative intent is remarkably unambiguous. I have it if you need it. Prosecutor after prosecutor testified that for the crime of felony murder of a child resulting from assault, the defendant must know or intend to cause serious physical injury.

Last month in Multnomah County, a judge agreed with the defense that the defendant must know or intend serious physical injury in order to be guilty of felony murder under this particular theory. It came up in the context of a bail hearing. It appears the State of Oregon will be filing a petition for a writ of mandamus on this issue, which means it will go straight to the Oregon Supreme Court. Such writs go on a much faster timeline than direct appeals, so if the state does follow through, we should have an answer within months.

« newest ‹ newer 20 ... oldest »