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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

The Scope of OEC 803(18)(a)(b)

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

An increasingly common situation is arising in child sex cases that are reversed by the appellate or in PCR. The state seeks to offer the prior trial testimony of the complaining witness under a hearsay exception of OEC 803(18)(a)(b).

There are a couple of arguments worth making in response. The first is the purpose of OEC 803(a)(b) is so that the jury can evaluate the nature of the "disclosure." This is what State v. Hobbs, 218 Or App 298, 305, 179 P3d 682 (2008) stated. The statute is written quite broadly, but the scope of a statute can be narrowed by legislative intent. (State v. Gaines.) If legislative intent is simply to help the jury understand how and under what circumstances the disclosure was made, the next question becomes, "what is a disclosure?" Is it any discussion of the alleged crimes? Or is it when the child reveals something new and different? And is trial testimony -- at which point the child has told multiple people, from family, to CARES NW, to the police, to the DA, to the Grand Jury -- really a disclosure? If not, then the prior testimony shouldn't be admitted.

If the hearsay exception allows it, then there is a question whether it is admissible under OEC 403. The argument here is that the cumulative nature of the testimony is inherently prejudicial because people are more likely to believe false things when they are repeated.

The mechanism for how repetition impacts credibility was explained in How Liars Create the Illusion of Truth by Tom Stafford.

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Among psychologists something like this known as the "illusion of truth" effect. Here's how a typical experiment on the effect works: participants rate how true trivia items are, things like "A prune is a dried plum". Sometimes these items are true (like that one), but sometimes participants see a parallel version which isn't true (something like "A date is a dried plum"). After a break – of minutes or even weeks – the participants do the procedure again, but this time some :of the items they rate are new, and some they saw before in the first phase. The key finding is that people tend to rate items they've seen before as more likely to be true, regardless of whether they are true or not, and seemingly for the sole reason that they are more familiar.

Id. [Bold added.]

If the judge overrules the objection to the admission of the trial testimony, how much of the prior testimony should come in? The state will usually argue it all is admissible, and it will cite Hobbs, 218 Or App 298, 305, 179 P3d 682 (2008) as authority. But Hobbs does not go nearly as far as the state will likely claim. At issue in Hobbs was the victim's diary. The Hobbs court described it as follows:

[T]he entire document is about the events leading up to the abuse, the abuse itself, and the victim's feelings during and after that time. The journal paints the picture of a developing sexual relationship between defendant and the victim, beginning with his questions about kissing and culminating in the charged acts of abuse, and includes an account of the victim's emotional reaction to the changing relationship.

Hobbs, 218 Or at 307.

The appellate court noted that the type of disclosure at issue was within the scope of what the legislature intended. However, the Court also noted the full scope of the hearsay exception is unknown. The Court noted that "the outer limits of a statement 'concerning an act of abuse' may not be clear. . ." Id. at 305. The Court specifically said it did not need to decide those limits in that case. Id. It found the portions of the diary fell within the scope of the exception "regardless of any textual ambiguities regarding the scope of a statement 'concerning an act of abuse. . . .'" Id. at 306.

I suspect large portions of the original trial testimony will blow past the reasonable limits of the hearsay exception. I recommend making a specific objection to individual statements in the testimony (again, assuming it is not kept out as a whole.)

And you may want to apply those limits to the CARES NW, Liberty House or Children's Center interviews. As the COA state, we don't yet know the limits of OEC 803(18)(a)(b). Which means it's all the more likely a well-preserved objection will result in an appellate decision that will provide clarity (and maybe get the convictions overturned.)

The Brown-Poston Demurrer

by: Ryan Scott • September 28, 2023 • no comments

This is from a Brown-Poston demurrer.


Under current case law, the state must allege the legal basis for joining counts in a mult-count indictment. If the basis for joinder is not properly alleged, the indictment is vulnerable to a demurrer.
Under more recent case law, specifically State v. Brown, 326 Or App 46, 57 (2023), the Court of Appeals has held that, in order for joinder of multiple counts to be proper, each count must be properly joined with every other count. In other words, that A is properly joined with B and B is properly joined with C is not enough to allow joinder in one indictment unless A is also properly joined with C.
In this case, the indictment expressly alleges why some of the counts are properly joined with some of the other counts. However, under Brown, that is not good enough. It is not sufficient to alleged, as here, that “Count 7 (Reckless Driving) was “of the same or similar character and a common scheme and plan as Count 5.” It must set forth in the indictment why count 7 is properly joined with all other counts in the indictment, not merely one other count.

Updated Argument on Gun Minimum

by: Ryan Scott • September 24, 2023 • no comments

Since my last blog post on the gun minimum in mid-August, I have significantly revised my memo that argues that the gun minimum must be imposed on the primary offense and cannot be deferred to a later (and non-M11) count.

I have also added a constitutional argument.

Be forewarned that cutting and pasting have made the formatting a bit wonky, but with that caveat, here is the substance of the argument:

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Upward Departures

by: Ryan Scott • September 13, 2023 • no comments

Meg Huntington will be presenting on the law on upward departures this weekend at the OCDLA Conference in Newport. The materials for the conference have been made available to all attendees. I can tell you that her materials are very thorough, and there is no doubt that when I receive an upward departure notice in the future, I will be comparing the alleged factors to her materials. If you are unable to go to the conference, you should nevertheless order her materials. They are that useful.

Can the Judge Pick and Choose Which Count To Impose the Gun Minimum On?

by: Ryan Scott • August 16, 2023 • no comments

A very common situation is this. The defendant is charge with a M11 offense, such as Robbery in the First Degree with a Firearm. They are also charged with Felon in Possession of a Firearm with a Firearm. The language in each count "with a firearm" refers to the gun minimum sentence enhancement that is codified at ORS 161.610.

The "gun minimum" carries a minimum of 60 months (5 years) in prison, which makes it less than the mandatory minimum sentence for any M11 offense. However, the minimum can be suspended for the first gun minimum conviction, although whether it is suspended or not, a second gun minimum conviction carries a mandatory 10 years in prison. The first gun minimum can also only be imposed once.

Assume the defendant is convicted of the charges above. Can the trial judge not impose the gun minimum on the robbery count and instead impose it on the felon in possession count? The advantage of doing so is that the felon in possession count -- because it has a separate "victim" than the robbery count -- can be run consecutively. In other words, imposing the gun minimum on the second count would permit a sentence of 150 months (90 plus 60) whereas imposing it on the first count would only allow a much shorter sentence.

The argument is no, the judge cannot pick and choose which count to impose the gun minimum on. The reason why is as follows:

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What Can Brown Do for You?

by: Ryan Scott • August 16, 2023 • no comments

In September, I will be presenting at the OCDLA CLE in Newport. I will be speaking on severance, aka, having separate trials for different counts. You'll need to go to the conference for my full presentation, but I wanted to alert everyone to State v Brown, 326 Or App 46 (2023).

In Brown, the Court of Appeals held that all counts that are joined for trial must be properly joined with all other counts. They rejected the argument that "if A is properly joined with B and B is properly joined with C, then A, B and C, can all be joined in one trial, even if count A and count C are not properly joined."

Here's the most basic hypothetical I can think of. If the defendant -- a convicted felon -- is charged with murder in December by stabbing, and a second murder in January by shooting, he might fact the following charges:

Count 1: Murder

Count 2: Murder w/ a Firearm

Count 3: Felon in Possession of a Firearm w/ a Firearm.

Assume the murders are completely unrelated. Before Brown, the state would argue that count 1 is properly joined with count 2 because the counts are "same or similar." They would also argue that count 2 and count 3 are properly joined because they are from one criminal episode and part of a common scheme or plan.

Post-Brown, the defendant would counter that count 1 and count 3 are not properly joined. They are not "same or similar." They are not part of the same transaction or a common scheme or plan. There is no independent basis for joining counts 1 and 3. Therefore, each murder should have a separate trial. There is no obligation for the defendant to show "substantial prejudice," although obviously each trial will be more fair if tried separately.