Access to a criminal defense lawyer is a critical component of justice and fairness protected in both the Oregon and United States constitutions. The ACLU of Oregon and the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association filed a friend-of-the-court-brief in the Oregon Supreme Court supporting a challenge to Multnomah County’s grand jury process for unconstitutionally denying people access to counsel.
Under the United States Constitution, somebody accused of a crime has the right to have an attorney helping them at any “critical stage” of a prosecution. Likewise, the Oregon constitution ensures that defense lawyers are not excluded from any stage of a criminal case at which a defendant is going to be heard. However, across Oregon, courts and prosecutors exclude defense lawyers from the room when their clients testify under oath at grand jury proceedings. If a defendant wants to consult with their attorney, their only option is to talk with them in the hallway outside the proceeding. The state fully excludes the defendant’s attorney from participating.
Our amicus brief urges the Oregon Supreme Court to find Oregon’s practice of excluding defense counsel from these grand jury proceedings unconstitutional. Excluding defense lawyers not only harms clients, but it harms the public’s grand jury process, too. Having defense attorneys present would ensure the grand jury’s fact-finding is complete and fair, and not just a biased presentation fully controlled by a state prosecutor.
Attorneys for amici include Cassidy Rice of Cassidy Rice Law, Kelly Simon for the ACLU of Oregon, and Rosalind Lee for the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.