Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Ban or Not to Ban...

Alcoholic Energy Drinks, such as Four Loko, have already been banned in Washington state after nine Central Washington University students were hospitalized after reportedly drinking the caffeinated malt liquor beverage. Serious concerns about the health risks these types of drinks may cause have grown nation wide. In addition to Washington, four other states, New York, Utah, Michigan and Oklahoma, have taken steps to remove alcoholic energy drinks from store shelves.

Oregon officials are considering applying a similar ban and would like the the Food and Drug Administration to issue an expedited ruling on the safety of the ever-so-popular alcoholic-caffeinated energy drinks.

Has anyone tried what's often referred to as "black out in a can"? Did you enjoy it? Did you feel any unpleasant affects? What do you guys think - should these types of drinks be banned in Oregon? Please share your experiences and opinions with DRG.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mayor Adams Do You Hear Me?

When I read the story my instant reaction was, “this is politically brilliant. The average citizen who reads this story is instantly going to be afraid…they will either put pressure on the legislature to give more money to the DA’s office or vote for whatever tax levy feeds money into the district attorney’s budget.” 

As someone who has worked as a criminal defense attorney in Multnomah County for 11 years (six of those years as a public defender), I’m here to call bullshit. 

If the average taxpayer had any idea just how much money is WASTED in the criminal justice system, I have no doubt that there would be an outright revolt. 

You want examples? Here are just a few (and remember, I could list a dozen more):

1.    Anyone who works in the system will tell you that drug addicts are only going to successfully complete treatment and stay sober if/when they are READY to get sober. You can send an individual to the Betty Ford Clinic or any other super-fancy, cutting-edge treatment program; but if they’re not ready to get clean, it will do no good. Last time I checked, the Multnomah County DA’s office (as well as DA offices in countless other counties) refuses to acknowledge that fact.

I have represented hundreds of addicts who have said, “I’m not ready for treatment, if given probation, I will violate, just get me a straight jail sentence.” What this means is that these defendants know that they will never make it through probation. So they just want to do jail time.

If they could get a straight jail sentence, once it’s up, they are free to go about their business. Nine times out of 10, that is not an option. The DA offers only probation, plus treatment, plus fines/fees, etc. And judges are usually not inclined to impose straight time sentences.

So you know what happens? That’s right: The person takes the deal, gets out of jail, and starts using the minute they step foot on the outside. You know what happens next? A warrant is issued for their arrest. Tax payers then pay for law enforcement officers to find these individuals and once they do, they go back to jail, and usually spend a week or so locked-up before a Judge finds they violated their probation for not doing the treatment they said they were not going to do in the first place. Repeat the scenario two to three times per drug defendant.

Oh, there’s more. Once a judge finally decides, “Okay, clearly this isn’t going to work. I’m going to revoke your probation and GIVE YOU JAIL TIME,” that individual ends up spending the time in jail they would have spent had they just been given the “straight time sentence” in the first place.

Now I don’t have the exact figure of the average daily amount spent to house the average Multnomah County defendant – but it’s a lot. I promise you that. In fact, I’m willing to bet that if we just allowed these people to serve their straight time sentences, there would be more than enough money to prosecute all crimes in the county. 

Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Well, yeah.

The thing that gets me more pissed off than anything? Yeah, the $58 million Wapato Jail, which has been EMPTY since it was built because there is no money to staff it. Oh, the irony.

BUT WHERE IS THE OUTCRY? We spent $58 million dollars of tax payers’ money to build a jail that has never been used. Sam Adams, are you listening? Oh right, you’re at your bike meeting with bike people about special bike things. Sorry to interrupt. 

2.    Prostitution “stings”: There’s a reason people say that prostitution is the oldest profession. Men always have and always will buy sex, and there will continue to be women (mostly) to provide it.

I’m happy to have a conversation about the fact that it is often the weakest, most vulnerable women who end up as prostitutes. I agree. But again, that’s an entirely different conversation, which requires a meaningful dialogue about sexism, bad parenting, self-esteem, drugs, etc.

In the meantime, I will tell you that police departments around the country spend hundreds of thousands of public money setting up stings. They put female police officers on street corners pretending to be prostitutes. Once they engage in the legally required exchange, “If you give me your money, I will give you my vagina.” The men they encounter are arrested.

At times, the reverse happens. But does it help things? No. Has prostitution gone away? No.

For every man who is arrested and shamed into not repeating his behavior, there are countless other men who will go out and seek prostitutes. But remember, we’re spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on such police stings. Don’t the police have better things to do with their time and OUR MONEY?

You’ll read stories in the newspaper telling you that, due to budget cuts, our streets aren’t safe.

Violent predators will be let loose.

Lock your doors.

Don’t let your children play outside.

But think about the waste. 

There’s no politician in the world who’s willing to step up and tell the truth. These are not popular topics. No one wants to admit that drug addicts will continue to be drug addicts until THEY are ready to get clean.

No one’s willing to admit that men from all socio-economic levels will continue to pay for sex. 
But that’s our reality, and I challenge anyone who’s worked in the system to say differently.

And yes, I call bullshit. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Teen Mom

A couple of weeks ago I was watching TV with my wife when she recommended that we watch a reality show on MTV called Teen Mom. Now, I am not above reality television but am also not one to tune into a show that appears aimed at a different demographic than mine, aka teenagers. Further, it has been quite some time since I have watched anything on MTV - sorry to say, that I figured I was just too old for their least since they stopped showing Van Halen and ZZ Top videos (and I'm talking old Van Halen, none of that Sammy Hagar crap - though he does make damn good tequila). While that may date me, I can't hide from the truth - I am just not an MTV guy anymore.

Having said that (thank you Jerry Seinfeld), I may have lightly protested watching this show, but not longer after it began. I was taken in by it. Unfortunately, this is not because this show is a thing of beauty - its more akin to rubber necking that accident on the freeway. (And, if you have been in an accident, I know a really good personal injury attorney who can help you.) But, lets be honest, isn't that what reality television is all about? Its voyerism on crack.

So, now having watched a few episodes of this show, I am not only still taken by it and its characters (as is much of the nation), but there have been some surprising legal issues or circumstances that led me to want to discuss them here, in our forum.

First, in episode 1, it was amazing to see MTV show a terribly unfortunate and very serious incident involding Farrah and her mother in which the mother assaulted her teen. While the show did not make this completely clear, it appeared that at least at some point, a knife was involved. This is a serious situation that is unfortunate for all those involved. While, as a criminal defense attorney, I never advocate to get the police involved because it rarely ends up good for anyone, this certainly seemed like the appropriate time to call them.

The interesting part is the relationship that appeared to continue between Farrah and the prosecutor after Farrah's mom eventually pleaded guilty to whatever she was charged with, presumably a felony. The show certainly didn't seem to address this and I don't blame MTV for glossing over it as it really is not an important part of the show, but again, as a criminal defense attorney, I could not help but notice that on multiple occasions, Farrah referred to the prosecuting attorney as "her attorney."

Again, defense lawyers (and prosecutors) know that a prosecutor is NOT the alleged victim's attorney. S/he works for the "people" as a collective - not anyone specifically. And I don't know how things work in the jurisdiction where Farrah resides, but that is certainly not the case here in Portland, Oregon. What became even more interesting is that as this storyline continued in future episodes, Farrah kept visiting "her attorney" aka, the prosecutor. And, it wasn't only to discuss Farrah's ongoing issues with her mother and the mother's compliance with her probationary terms, like treatment and counseling. They also discussed obtaining social security for Farrah's baby. What the audience eventually learns is that the baby-daddy perished in a drunk driving accident sometime in the past - we're not sure when, just that it was after conception.

I do not have a problem with Farrah rightfully applying for these benefits for her child - the system exists, she deserves to access it. And, this is not the place where I would argue the point of our country providing those benefits. What sparked my interest, as an attorney here in Portland, is that when Farrah needed advice on applying for these benefits (and then going through the process itself), MTV certainly made it appear that the prosecutor was the lawyer who helped her get these benefits. Again, from my experience as a criminal defense attorney, this is not the job of a prosecutor. Certainly, here in Multnomah County or other areas of Oregon and Washington that I am familiar with, that would not occur.

District Attorneys or prosecutors work for the state or the "people." They are supposed to investigate and prosecute alleged criminals. They are not supposed to spend the people's money (by spending their time while on the job) to help an individual obtain social security benefits. It was just interesting and not sure if MTV just edited the footage to appear that way or if that was how it actually happened. The prosecutor's job is not to do this - and, s/he definitely shouldn't get paid to do it. That would be the job of a civil lawyer retained to obtain those benefits on behalf of the child. Further, even if he did it pro bono, i.e., for free, he still isn't supposed to be spending his time working for any one individual. However, I only bring this up as a lawyer as it is of interest - things could either be different where they live, or MTV may have performed some creative editing for the sake of time savings or plot arcs. I guess that is their prerogative.

The second intersting event from this criminal defense lawyer's perspective is what appeared to be more criminal activity that appeared on television. Again, this comes from someone who did nothing more than watch the show - I have no idea what happened behind the scenes. But, in episode 10, another teen mom named Amber clearly assaults her boyfriend/fiance, Gary by punching him in the face. Then, as Gary is leaving, she kicks him in the back as he is walking down the stairs - something that really could have injured him had he fallen. Amber and Gary clearly have a volatile relationship, and I'm sure an audience member doesn't see the whole story - one never does in reality television, right? Having said that (thanks again, Jerry), from the perspective of a lawyer, was this an event that was prosecuted?

There is no getting around the event took place - see the video here. And, not only did Amber punch Gary squarley in the face, she did it in front of their young daughter which here in Oregon would be considered a felony. I bring this up for a few reasons. Again, was Amber prosecuted? Even an experienced criminal defense attorney would have a tough time defending these actions caught clearly on video - something that is rare in the world of criminal justice. If not, why not? Did MTV get some deal ahead of time from the local prosecutor's office that if they aired this footage Amber would not be prosecuted? Was she but MTV buried it? Its not something that was hidden from the audience as Amber and Gary even discussed it again in its on-line wrap up shows.

And, if she wasn't prosecuted and it wasn't because of some deal that MTV obtained, why wasn't she? Is it because she is a girl and the alleged victim was a boy? In my experience here in Multnomah County, that would not be the case. I have handled domestic violence cases where the female was alleged to have assaulted the male (and even won a jury trial obtaining an acquittal for my female client, thank you very much). But, in other jurisdictions (as explained in a previous post), maybe those cases aren't prosecuted because the district attorney has prosecutorial discretion to charge or not charge any case or incident of which they learn. Is that fair? Would the DA simply turn a blind eye simply because the events occurred on MTV?

Just food for thought - do any attorneys, criminal or otherwise, have an opinion or inside information about this? Should girls get a free pass when they beat on their boyfriends? Does it matter who is bigger or how badly the other person is hurt if at all? (FYI, getting "hurt" or what "physical injury" means becomes a legal issue when one gets charged with assault in Oregon.) What about any laypeople out there whether you watch this show or not - do you have an opinion? Give us a shout out and let us know....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Angry Dad threatens school bus bullys

Saw this interesting story today(see below) - what do you think? As an experienced criminal defense attorney, I can tell you that I have seen much sillier cases filed by district attorneys.

What the news I have seen hasn't made clear is whether we are talking about the cops charging this guy with disorderly conduct or the local district attorney's office. If you don't know the difference, see our previous post that explains what the police charge you with and what the district attorney later decides to officially charge you with (if anything) don't have to have ANYTHING to do with each other.

So, if it's just the cops, this, in my humble opinion, is a perfect case that has no business being issued. Sure, it may be ok that the police arrested this guy to "investigate" the crime though that was probably also unnecessary.

As a criminal defense lawyer, I am always hopeful that we can return to the days of actually investigating these things before charging them and then making a reasoned decision on what to do based on all the facts obtained. What often happens these days is that someone makes a report (or sees a video) and they are immediately charged, investigation to come later (if at all). I'd like to think the cops could actually do their jobs and investigate the case before arresting someone. However, even if they don't, or can't (a premise that I am unable to statistically refute though I have my doubts), and angry dad does get arrrested, there is supposed to be another level of checks and balances in our fair society based on what the creators of our goverment initially thought would occur.

The district attorney, whomever they are or employ to work under them, has what's called prosecutorial discretion to decide to issue a case or not. Sure, they can listen to anyone they want before making that decision - bosses, cops, alleged victims, defendants, criminal defense attorneys, the guy on the corner, their barista, anyone, but, most importantly, they don't HAVE to listen to anyone. It is entirely up to them!

So, then the district attorney decides to issue the case - if they decide to. If they issue it, a defendant is now facing jail time and has to hire a lawyer - well, is an idiot not to (is that too blunt?). Then the criminal defense lawyer does the investigation and tells the DA what they think happened based on their investigation. But, initially at least, all a lot of DAs want is a plea, "I issued the case, I think I can prove it, plead to it and/or lets haggle about the terms, but one way or another we're talking a plea." Unless the criminal defense attorney can convince the DA that their wrong - they head to trial, if the defendant doesn't plead to something.

What no one seems to understand in this process (besides the DA and the criminal defense lawyer), is that a jury can be a real crap shoot depending on who is in the jury pool that day. So, on a bad day (and believe me, they happen), many innocent people could be convicted. Trust me, all you people out there saying, "that would never happen to me" - it can, and it does all the time.

Those are the same people who say, "I would never confess or plead guilty to something I didn't do" - that's another good one - a lot of those people change their mind when they find themeselves in that position. Hopefully, if you do find yourself there, you can afford a good criminal defense attorney or get lucky with a good public defender to help you with your situation. But, I digress.

The problem is that what happened to this guy's daughter may not give him the legal right to act the way he did - morally? maybe...but, legally? Depends on the state and statute under which he is charged. But, you also have to ask yourself - does that make him a criminal? Does he need a lawyer? Because, I can tell you, its not up to the dad, or his lawyer, to decide - the DA and the DA alone is the one who gets to make that call. And, in a lot of jurisdictions (again, assuming these are misdemeanor charges), then that decision could very likely be in the hands of some junior, newbie DA who just passed the bar...

So getting back to our media obsession of the day, if this is a story that hit the internet before the DA had made a charging decision, this certainly seems like a case that, with some investigation, maybe even some negotiation, could go away without that waste of a process. If these kids really stopped bullying angry dad's daughter, is he still a menace to society? Or will he go back to his law-abiding ways (if that's from whence he came)? If so, then, from this criminal lawyer, I say take care of it on the front end, nip it in the bud, and save everyone a big headache. What do you think?

Monday, September 27, 2010

How can the district attorney bring MORE charges than what I was arrested for?

One of the most common frustrations we hear from clients facing criminal prosecution goes something like this: “The police only arrested me for one misdemeanor. When I showed up for my arraignment, I learned that the district attorney indicted me on that misdemeanor PLUS three felonies. How can they do that?”

Police officers investigate crimes, and when those police officers believe they have probable cause to do so, they arrest people for those crimes. But make no mistake about it; it is the job of the district attorney or prosecutor in the county where the alleged crime occurred to determine for which crimes, if any, the individual should be prosecuted. Often, a prosecutor will review the police reports and determine that there are additional or more severe charges to be prosecuted. On the other hand, a prosecutor may review a police report and determine that the police officer’s arrest was unwarranted or that if brought before a jury, they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of such charge so they dismiss or “no complaint” the charge(s).

It is important to understand that initially the police officer holds the power: to arrest you; to take you to jail; to initiate the charges; to set the stage for prosecutors and judges to ultimately determine custody release, plea offers, and sentence. 

But you’re not done there. And you shouldn’t be surprised to show up at an initial court appearance and discover that you are facing much more than initially thought.

Sound complicated? It is. That’s why, if facing criminal prosecution, you need an experienced criminal lawyer to help you navigate the system. A seasoned defense lawyer will have a solid understanding of A) who the assigned prosecutor is; B) whether that prosecutor typically overcharges or is a reasonable person to work with in terms of plea negotiations/settlement; C) any unique or novel defenses for those particular charges (e.g., an experienced drug lawyer will be up to speed on any and all drug-offense-related constitutional defenses, and an experienced DUI lawyer will recognize the unique scientific challenges to a DUI arrest).  

Remember, an arrest or indictment does not equal game over. It’s just the beginning.

But the best criminal attorney will always be your secret weapon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Women Sports Journalists in the Men's Locker Room

Before the “Jets' locker room incident”, Ines Sainz was not a familiar name to many of us.  Now, she seems to be the #1 topic of conversation around the water cooler.

For those of you hiding underneath a rock for the past week, Ines Sainz is a Mexican journalist who was recently the target of inappropriate and suggestive comments made by some New York Jets' football players while waiting to interview Jets' quarterback Mark Sanchez.  According to reports, while Sainz was waiting for the interview, several Jets players made inappropriate and suggestive comments to her.  Another journalist, who was present but not the target of the comments, complained about the behavior.  Since the complaint, the Jets have apologized, and just this week the NFL issued a memo with the following statement:  "Women are a common part of the sports media…By law, women must be granted the same rights to perform their jobs as men.  Please remember that women reporters are professionals and should be treated as such."  
Professional athletes and sports journalists alike have felt the need to comment on the incident.  Washington Redskins' running back Clinton Portis shared his view on air by saying,  "I think you put women reporters in the locker room in position to see guys walking around naked, and you sit in the locker room with 53 guys, and all of the sudden you see a nice woman in the locker room. I think men are going to tend to turn and look and want to say something to that woman."  Really, Clinton???     

It's no shocker that this recent incident has fueled many discussions, including debates on what constitutes sexual harassment, whether woman journalists should be allowed in men’s locker rooms, and whether male journalists are allowed in the women's locker room.  All very interesting issues that undoubtedly foster strong views.  DRG is interested in hearing your position on one or all of these topics.  We are looking for both male and female perspectives.  So, please do share! 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

We've All Thought We've Known a Bride From Hell - Until You Meet this Bride From Hell

According to the sassy crime victim news correspondent diva, otherwise known as Nancy Grace, 23-year-old Jessica Vega pretended to have terminal cancer so she could attract sympathy from friends, relatives and strangers alike who stepped in to give her a dream wedding - FOR FREE! The rings, the wedding dress and the photos all were donated. The catering hall was heavily discounted, and the (awful) bride and her (dumb as a doornail) groom flew off to their honeymoon in Aruba with donated money, using plane tickets bought by well-wishers.

Apparently, the jig was up when Vega's rocket scientist husband, Michael O'Connell, finally realized that his long-time partner (and mother of his child) didn't appear to be ill.

According to various news sources, a criminal investigation is pending.

So our question to all you Matlock wannabes: What could she be charged with and/or convicted of?

Friday, September 3, 2010

“You have the right to remain silent.” For the love of god, REMAIN SILENT!

So here’s the thing: Police officers are very good at making you feel like they are your friend because they are trained to make you feel like they are your friend. And nine times out of ten, they get convictions because they convince people, like you, that they are their friend. They’re not. I don’t care how nice/sweet/innocent you are or how much money you have. Agreeing to give a statement to a police officer without an experienced criminal attorney present is the best chance you have of getting convicted of a crime.

Forget Law and Order. Forget Cold Case. Police officers and district attorneys get convictions as a result of statements made by defendants. It pains me to think of the number of cases I’ve handled where, without a defendant’s statement, the state would never have had enough evidence to convict.

When a police officer tells you that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, they are doing so because the law requires them to do so. Not because they really want you to remain silent and/or call a defense attorney.

But I get it…it’s human nature to want to cooperate, be nice and go with the program. And when someone wearing a uniform and carrying a gun says something like “I’m sure once I hear your story, everything will be fine and you’ll get to go home,” your first reaction will be to just tell them your story.


What 99% of the country doesn’t know is that years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the police can legally be deceptive when questioning suspects. In other words, police officers are lawfully allowed to lie in order to get a confession.


“Your friend just gave you up” (untrue).

“You might as well come clean. We have evidence linking you to the crime” (untrue).

“I’m sure if you just tell me what happened things will go easier for you” (untrue).

The bottom line is that it is NEVER in your interest to give statements to the police. Even if you’re completely innocent. The right to an attorney is there for a reason. Use it. And yes, police officers will often say that if you just give them a statement you’ll most likely get to go home. Almost always not the case. If anything, giving a statement will lead to an indictment.

If you tell a cop that you want a lawyer, they must stop interrogating you. Regardless of circumstances, please, please, please take advantage of your constitutional rights and tell said cop that you want a lawyer and DON’T SAY ANYTHING until you’re criminal attorney arrives. In almost every instance, a good criminal attorney will tell you to say nothing.

And odds are, it will save your life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

They admitted the other driver was at fault! I don’t want a lawyer getting a piece of my settlement! Why won’t they settle?

We often hear from frustrated personal injury victims who don’t understand why an insurance company won’t just offer them a reasonable settlement when, after all, they’ve been injured and the other party was clearly at fault. Quite often people try to settle their claims without hiring an experienced injury attorney.

More often than not, by the time we meet with such clients, they tell us the insurance adjuster with whom they’ve been dealing has either A) made an unreasonable, insulting offer, or B) just keeps giving them the runaround.

Why should I give a car accident lawyer a percentage of my settlement when the law is on my side, you ask?

At the end of the day, insurance companies (and their adjusters) are above all else, trying to make a buck. Most seasoned insurance adjusters view unrepresented individuals as easy targets; they think that without an experienced personal injury defense attorney involved in the case, you will take whatever lowball offer they make.

An experienced auto accident law firm will know how to value a case, which means the right injury attorney will advise you on a reasonable settlement range. And if the insurance company doesn’t make a reasonable offer, your lawyer will tell you it’s unreasonable and advise you to go to trial.

Yes, this means that a percentage of your settlement will go to your personal injury defense attorney. But nine times out of ten, the adjuster you’re dealing with won’t begin to discuss a reasonable and appropriate settlement until they get a call from your lawyer – whether you’re in Portland, Vancouver, or Bend. Insurance companies know how to play people and they will do whatever they can to win.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I’ve been arrested or charged with a crime. Now what?

A pending criminal case can be one of the most stressful times in a person’s life.

Regardless of whether a person is looking at a misdemeanor DUI, drug offense or serious felony that carries a maximum minimum penalty, the months or years it takes to resolve such a matter will be very hard on even the most optimistic person.

Hiring the right defense attorney is a critical step in successful resolution, whether that means avoiding jail or prison or going all the way to trial with a seasoned criminal defense attorney who will give you the best chance of a not guilty verdict.

If you open the phonebook in Portland, you will find hundreds of lawyers who sell themselves as the best criminal attorney in town. But how can you truly know if that Portland lawyer has the experience, smarts, aggressiveness, and reputation to get you the results you need?

Of equal importance, if you need a lawyer, you should hire someone with whom you feel comfortable. A lawyer who demonstrates good customer service and recognizes that you, the client, should always have phone calls returned, questions answered, and issues explained to you in a way that is not condescending, but communicated in a way you understand (no fancy lawyer speak!).

Not all criminal lawyers have experience with all types of charges. While driving under the Influence charges are usually misdemeanors (meaning the maximum jail time is one year), good DUI defense lawyers understand the complexities of such cases. It’s not just a matter of was she or wasn’t she driving under the influence. There are many challenges DUI attorneys can make to the methods and tests employed by the police officer who made the arrest. But those challenges require experience. Just because someone markets themselves as a DUI attorney, that doesn’t mean you should hire them.

When you meet with a criminal defense attorney in Portland, Vancouver or elsewhere, you should interview them. Ask them how many similar cases they’ve had. Ask them how many of those cases went to trial? Ask specifics about their practice – what percentage is criminal and what percentage is other kinds of law. How often do they practice in the county where you were charged? Have they ever had a founded bar complaint?

There are several lawyer referral websites you can search to learn specific information about the attorney you’re looking to hire. Such sites provide client reviews (good and bad) as well as endorsements from other lawyers who have worked with these individuals. Do your homework!

And at the end of the day, you should feel comfortable with your attorney: comfortable speaking openly about your case or your circumstances; comfortable calling your attorney with any questions or concerns, and comfortable that your defense lawyer, above anything else, is advocating for you and your interests. Trust your instincts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A twenty-five year prison sentence for stealing food?

For those of you who think only hardened, violent criminals are subjected to the harsh mandatory minimum sentences enforced across the country (including Oregon), let us introduce you to Gregory Taylor, a homeless, hungry Californian sentenced to 25 years in prison for trying to break into a church kitchen to find something to eat.

Thanks to the work of Stanford University law students and the law school’s “three strikes project,” a Superior Court judge amended Gregory Taylor's sentence to his eight years already served. The 47-year-old, who was sentenced in 1997 to 25 years to life, will be a free man in a few days.

Due to two prior robbery convictions in the 1980s (one for stealing a purse containing $10 and the other for trying to rob a man on the street—neither of which involved the use of a weapon, and neither of his victims was injured), Taylor was convicted under California’s notorious three-strikes law.

While Oregon’s mandatory minimum statute is not exactly the same as California’s, the result is the same. In Oregon, for certain offenses, the circumstances of the case are irrelevant and judges have no discretion with regard to sentencing. Regardless of the individual’s background, age, criminal history (or lack thereof), or the role he or she played during the criminal act, if convicted of one of the specified crimes, that person will be sentenced to prison for a very long time. If the District Attorney is unwilling to reduce the charge, even the best Portland criminal attorney will have few strategic options if their client is convicted.

Stated simply, the mandatory minimum-sentence requirement does not work. It sends homeless people to prison for years for trying to steal food. It prohibits judges from using their training, experience, knowledge and common sense when sentencing defendants.

Ask yourself why we should have judges if they’re not allowed to make the decisions that would best serve our communities?