Follow us:

The Today File

Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

October 4, 2013 at 12:51 PM

Court: Occupy Portland protesters have right to trials

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that 50 people arrested during Occupy Portland protests two years ago are entitled to jury trials, even though prosecutors downgraded the misdemeanor charges to violations with no threat of jail sentences.

The ruling on Thursday means prosecutors can’t unilaterally change a criminal prosecution to a noncriminal one and use that change to deprive defendants of their right to a jury trial, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

Prosecutors in the Multnomah County district attorney’s office said they hadn’t decided whether they would now seek to try the protesters.

The case involves the October 2011 arrest of Laurie Ann Benoit in Jamison Square. She was jailed for several hours on an accusation of second-degree criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.

Prosecutors opted to pursue the case as a violation, a lesser, noncriminal offense. Those convicted of such violations face only a fine or other civil penalty.

The state argued that move decriminalized the charge.

But Justice David Brewer wrote for a unanimous court that the Legislature established second-degree criminal trespass as a criminal offense and changing the possible penalty does not allow the state to take away a defendant’s constitutional right to appointed counsel and a jury trial.

The decision accompanied another on Thursday in a similar case. The court said Tawanna D. Fuller was entitled to a jury trial to face charges of third-degree theft and attempted first-degree theft. The crimes are misdemeanor offenses, but prosecutors decided to pursue those charges as violations.

The state Supreme Court said Fuller still deserved constitutional protections for offenses that retained attributes of a criminal prosecution on a charge commonly understood by society to be criminal in nature.

The court noted that many jurisdictions around the country have opted to treat certain low-level crimes as violations, in part due to budgetary constraints.

Prosecutors said they were still evaluating the Fuller case, as well.

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: Occupy Portland, Oregon Supreme Court, trespass


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►