Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt today urged his support for SB 867, which is aimed at increasing protections for victims of crime in Oregon. The bill, which was heard before the Senate Committee on Judiciary this afternoon, was developed in consultation with victims groups, the Department of Justice, and multiple District Attorney’s offices.
“Victims of crime already face trauma and uncertainty when pursuing justice. Our legal system should therefore be as responsive as possible to the needs of crime victims. I brought forward this legislation because our criminal legal system should not cause further harm to victims,” said DA Mike Schmidt.
The bill addresses the legal doctrine of “forfeiture by wrongdoing” – a longstanding constitutional exception to the general right that a person accused of crime has to confront their accusers. This doctrine stands for the principle that if a defendant causes a victim not to appear in court through unlawful behaviors, such as intimidation and threats of violence, they should not benefit from the victim’s absence. However, over the last few years, Oregon’s courts have required the state to continue to attempt to personally serve a victim with subpoenas at their home and places of work, hold them in contempt of court, or request material witness warrants for their arrest in order to prove that they are “unavailable” for the purposes of this doctrine. These actions are not required by the constitution and can cause further trauma for victims.
SB 867 would bring Oregon into alignment with constitutional standards. The prosecution would still be required to prove that the reason a witness or victim did not appear in court was directly due to the actions taken by the defendant to scare, threaten, or intimidate them, but would no longer be required to keep pursuing victims with additional subpoena attempts, home visits from investigators, contempt orders, and other intrusive measures.
Carli Rohner, Campus Coordinator with the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force said, “Sexual violence is a crime rooted in power and control. Therefore, it is incumbent on our criminal justice system to meaningfully limit a defendant’s ability to weaponize its own proceedings in a further exertion of power and control over a survivor, whenever possible. One step towards this goal is ensuring that a survivor’s voice can still be included in court proceedings, even if the survivor cannot meaningfully participate due to intimidation or threats that have been made by a defendant. This step is necessary towards our state’s goal of creating equitable access to justice for survivors of sexual violence.”
Sybil Hebb, Director of Legislative and Policy Advocacy for the Oregon Law Center commented, “Domestic violence and sexual assault are devastating crimes that can have a lasting impact on their victims. In domestic and sexual violence prosecutions, a victim or witness is especially vulnerable to threats and intimidation by the perpetrator, and studies show that acts of retaliation against these victims are tragically common. Forcing a terrified survivor to testify against their will in a criminal prosecution is a clear-cut example of re-victimization by the system and can have long-lasting mental and physical health consequences. Codifying the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing will lead to less traumatic interventions for crime survivors and discourage defendants from attempting to intimidate victims.”
More information is available on the Oregon Legislature’s website.