The Oregon District Attorney’s Association announced Tuesday it’s backing away from a campaign to change the state’s Constitution and require unanimous juries.
Less than three weeks ago, the organization that represents the state’s 36 elected prosecutors said it wanted to play a leadership role in doing away with a system many see as rooted in racism and discrimination.
“At this time, we do not have plans to pursue a ballot measure for 2018 or 2020,” Tim Colahan, executive director of ODAA, told OPB via email late Tuesday.
Oregon and Louisiana are the only two states in the country that allow juries to convict defendants without unanimity in felony cases. In Oregon, the only exceptions are murder or aggravated murder cases, which still require a unanimous jury.
The state’s prosecutors wanted to do more than just change non-unanimous juries, and that appears to be what killed the proposal.
“Unfortunately, the potential partners for this effort have declared their unwillingness to support the reform of both issues in a balanced approach,” Colahan added. “Oregon prosecutors cannot do this alone.”
As part of its campaign, ODAA also wanted to repeal a defendant’s right to decide whether they were tried by a jury or a judge and give prosecutors a say in the matter.
Currently, only criminal defendants have a right to waive a jury trial. Opponents of the split jury system were not on board with giving prosecutors that ability in cases.
“Oregon’s prosecutors remain committed to protecting the rights of victims of crime as well as honoring the rights of criminals charged with crimes,” ODAA said in a statement. “It is the position of Oregon’s prosecutors that both sides should have an equal right to assert or waive the right to a jury trial, just as both sides would have the right to a unanimous jury under their proposal.”
Earlier this month, news of the campaign to change the jury rule leaked after the campaign’s web developer mistakenly made its website live.
It took criminal justice reform activists by surprise.
David Rogers, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, said Tuesday the DA’s association never approached his organization about working together.
“I can’t say I’m surprised by the early end to their half-hearted attempt at a meaningful and overdue reform for our state,” Rogers said in an email.
Traditionally, many district attorneys have advocated for the state’s current system that allows just 10 out of 12 jurors to agree in order to convict or acquit a defendant. Advocates of the current system argue it allows for fewer hung juries and greater efficiencies in the criminal justice system.
Opponents of Oregon’s 10-2 system have long argued it discriminates because it denies defendants a jury of their peers, especially for defendants of color in a state where most juries tend to be mostly, or even entirely, white.
“At the end of the day, I think fair-minded people should still consider this bizarre moment a win because the ODAA can’t walk back the truth about the non-unanimous jury law: It is unjust, unfair, and rooted in a bigoted past and present,” Rogers said.