Fans of clemency law and history will want to be sure to check out a big recent ruling by the Oregon Court of Appeals in Marteeny v. Brown, 321 Or App 250 (Aug. 10, 2022) (available here). The start of the 40+-page opinion provides an effective overview of its coverage:
In 2020 and 2021, Oregon Governor Kate Brown granted clemency to approximately 1,026 convicted felons, comprising three groups: (1) individuals “vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19,” (2) individuals who had fought “the historic wildfires that ravaged the state around Labor Day 2020,” and (3) 73 individuals who were sentenced as juveniles before the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 1008 (2019), sec-25 of which was codified as ORS 144.397. SB 1008 made substantial changes to the prosecution and sentencing of juvenile offenders, including providing for early release hearings, conducted by the Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision (BOPPS), after 15 years of incarceration. The legislature did not make SB 1008 retroactive. The effect of the Governor’s commutation order for these 73 individuals was to afford them the same procedure, under ORS 144.397, that would be afforded to a juvenile offender convicted today.
Two groups of relators — Douglas Marteeny, Linn County District Attorney, and Patricia Perlow, Lane County District Attorney (the DA relators), and four family members of victims of the crimes of which the some of the youth prisoners were convicted (the victim relators) — petitioned the Marion County Circuit Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Governor, the Department of Corrections (DOC), the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA), and BOPPS “to honor and follow all procedural and substantive provisions of Oregon law.” In their legal arguments, relators argue that the commutations here were procedurally flawed, and unlawful for a variety of reasons that we detail below. But underlying those technical arguments exists a palpable emotion that deserves acknowledgement: relators feel that they have been denied justice.
As we detail below, the clemency power of presidents and governors traces its origins to the earliest days of English common law. The arguments and emotions present in this case echo through the centuries. The power to pardon, sitting within a singular executive — be they monarch, president, or governor — has always been controversial, seemingly at odds with legislative determination and judicial decision-making. Whenever it has been used, it has lauded by some, and condemned by others. We are not called here to judge the wisdom of the Governor’s clemency of these 953 individuals; that is a political question. We are tasked solely with determining her authority to do so under Oregon law. And on that narrow question, we conclude that the commutations at issue here were a lawful exercise of the broad clemency power afforded Oregon governors by constitution and statute.