Criminal Justice

“[L]awyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries. The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours.”
-- Justice Hugo Black,
Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963

The rights guaranteed to individuals under suspicion, criminal defendants, and prisoners are fundamental rights that protect all Americans from governmental abuse of power. These rights include the guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure, the right to reasonable bail, the right against self incrimination, the right to counsel, the right to be acquitted unless the government can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to a jury of one’s peers and the right to be free from cruel and unusual treatment.

These protections were included in our federal and state constitutions in order to protect innocent persons who may be wrongfully suspected or accused of a crime. The framers understood that it is more important for the government to follow the rule of law than it is to obtain a guilty verdict in every case.


ACLU Sues Oregon Department of Corrections Over Denial of Medical Care to Transgender Prisoner

Lawsuit highlights relentless suffering of transgender prisoner and demands medically-necessary care for all transgender prisoners 


October 17, 2016 - The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon (ACLU of Oregon) filed a lawsuit today in federal court against the officials at the Oregon Department of Corrections on behalf of a transgender prisoner who is being denied essential medical care. The suit, on behalf of Michelle Wright, a transgender woman who is currently housed at Two Rivers Correctional Facility, argues that it is cruel and unusual to deny medically-necessary care to prisoners. 

“The Oregon Department of Corrections is denying our client lifesaving care,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon. 

Wright, age 25, felt a deep disconnect between the gender she was assigned at birth and her female gender since childhood. Although she identified as transgender, she was unable to begin hormone therapy prior to her incarceration. According to the complaint, Wright has been denied medical care despite submitting nearly 100 requests. Facing repeated denials of care, she has attempted suicide multiple times and, on three occasions, attempted to castrate herself. 

“At this point, I’m afraid I will lose her forever,” said an emotional Victoria Wright, mother of the plaintiff. “She should be held accountable for her mistakes, but I’m worried she is being damaged in prison in a way that might not be fixable.”


Oregon Supreme Court Ruling in Eugene Taser Case Strengthens Public’s Right to Records

ACLU Lawsuit Increases Transparency in Police Use of Force Inquiries

still from video of tasing incident shows man on ground with two police standing over himSeptember 15, 2016 – The Oregon Supreme Court ruled today that the City of Eugene must turn over records to the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon in their inquiry into the high profile use of force against Eugene protester Ian Van Ornum. In 2008, Van Ornum was twice tased while peacefully protesting against the use of pesticides in downtown Eugene.

The City of Eugene relied on an exemption to the public records law to deny the release of documents in the case. 

In the unanimous decision, the court said that the public has strong interest in police oversight.

 “Without mutual trust, the police cannot do their work effectively and the public cannot feel safe,” wrote Oregon Supreme Court Justice Martha Walters. “One way to promote that necessary mutual trust is to make police practices and procedures transparent and to make complaints about police misconduct and the discipline that is or is not meted out open to public inspection.”

The decision reinforces the strong public interest in disclosure of information about the use of force by officers, alleged police misconduct, and the process by which those allegations are reviewed. 

Oregon law says that when an investigation does not result in discipline of any public safety officer then the records will not be released except “when the public interest requires disclosure of the information.” 

With this decision, the court places significant value in the public interest exceptions in Oregon’s public records laws. This will be very important in future public records requests, particularly requests that relate to video captured by police body cameras or dashboard cameras on patrol cars.

Kimberly McCullough, ACLU of Oregon’s legislative director, said the case was a very significant win for Oregonians. 

“Today is a big day for police accountability in Oregon,” said McCullough. “In this time of national concern regarding what is appropriate police conduct, we are proud that Oregon’s answer is now to shed more light on the review process.” 



Thinking Outside the Box

Past criminal history shouldn’t limit job opportunitiesEmployment app

We strongly support the "Ban the Box" bill - HB 3025 , which helps to remove roadblocks to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals. This bill would prevent employers from asking prospective employees about past criminal histories on job applications until after a conditional offer of employment is made.

After serving their debt to society, many ex-offenders are denied the opportunity to work based solely on their conviction. This makes it difficult if not impossible for individuals with a criminal record to re-enter society successfully and be able to earn a living. With a criminal justice system that is dominated by racial disparities, people of color are disproportionately harmed by employers’ criminal background check procedures.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), more than 650,000 individuals are released from prison every year. One of the key elements they identified for successful re-entry into our communities is helping these individuals find and keep a job. If ex-offenders are to succeed as law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, they must have a chance at finding employment – particularly in this tough economic climate.


Open Letter to Oregon District Attorneys

Criminal justice advocates and leaders call upon you to start now on implementing important drug policy reforms.

November 20, 2014 – Although Oregon voters passed Measure 91 with a 12-point margin, implementation of this better, smarter approach to marijuana policy will not be complete until the first half of 2016. We don't have to wait until then to start to mitigate the damage done by decades of criminalization, wasted law enforcement time and squandered taxpayer money.

Prosecutors in Oregon's largest county have already decided to dismiss, and stop prosecuting, marijuana-related offenses that would no longer exist under Measure 91. Other county prosecutors should follow Multnomah County's lead. 

A strong majority of Oregon voters have directed the state to stop treating marijuana as a crime and to better prioritize our limited law enforcement resources. With so many lives and so much money at stake, waiting would be unreasonable and clearly damaging to Oregon's communities. We should work quickly to limit the damage already caused by a feckless war against marijuana.

We urge you to cease enforcement of marijuana laws that will no longer exist when provisions of Measure 91 take effect in July.



Oregon Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police Issue Statement in Support of a New Approach to Drug Policy

September 26, 2016 - The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon applauds the Oregon sheriffs and chiefs of police for their statement today supporting a new approach to drug policy in our state, including a recommendation to charge drug possesion as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Kimberly McCullough, legislative director at the ACLU of Oregon, said:

“We are encouraged that Oregon law enforcement recognize that harsh drug laws have been a failure, wasting taxpayer money and disproportionately impacting communities of color. Criminalization does not help people struggling with addiction and often exacerbates their problems. There are more effective ways to use Oregon’s limited resources to address this public health issue.”

David Rogers, executive director at the ACLU of Oregon, said:

“Longer criminal sentences are not always the path to justice, safety, or solving challenging social problems. I am pleased to see Oregon law enforcement leaders promoting a smarter approach in our state. Policies that prevent people from rebuilding their lives are bad for Oregon. When someone is charged with a felony drug crime it can follow them for life, preventing access to housing, employment, education, and more.”


Internal DOJ Report Leaves Us with More Questions than Answers on the Surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon

By David Rogers, Executive Director

David Rogers photoApril 12, 2016 - Yesterday a report on the surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon was released by the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ). The report confirmed what we learned back in November: that an agent who works for the Criminal Division of DOJ was testing a surveillance program, called Digital Stakeout, by searching various key words, including #BlackLivesMatter. The agent then mistook posts from DOJ’s own Director of Civil Rights, including a post of a Public Enemy logo and political cartoons, as a threat to law enforcement and wrote a memo that was passed all the way up the chain of command to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum before it was, finally, rejected as dangerous, racial profiling. The Attorney General hired an outside attorney to conduct an independent investigation of the matter to determine if policies or laws were violated.

After reading through the report and looking through the exhibits, we are left with more questions than answers. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at the lack of awareness that was revealed of both the law and of what might constitute a threat. This is not only shameful, but also dangerous. Given the power that they wield, I am dismayed at the state of the Criminal Justice Division and afraid for the Oregonians that are supposed to be protected by them. Self-reinforced bias, against protesters, black people, and who knows who else, has left the agency ill-equipped to do their job.