SALEM — A bill that would allow a district attorney and a person convicted of a crime to ask a judge to revisit a conviction or reduce a prison sentence has passed both chambers of the Legislature and now heads to the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 819 was hailed Tuesday, June 8, by advocates and supporters as among the most significant changes to the criminal justice system to emerge from the legislative session.
The bill gives prosecutors and a person with a conviction the chance to jointly ask a judge to make a change that could include dropping a felony to a misdemeanor, erasing a conviction altogether or reducing the length of a person’s sentence.
The district attorney would have to agree to the petition before it could be heard by the court.
The bill was requested by the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School. Aliza Kaplan, a law school professor who runs the clinic, said the bill would be most useful in cases where someone was convicted of a crime based on outdated forensic science.
Kaplan said California and Washington have similar policies that are used sparingly.
The bill would allow petitions in other situations as well, such as in cases when a Black defendant received a significantly higher sentence than a white person in a similar situation or when a person who committed a crime long ago and has been out of prison and out of trouble cannot apply for professional licenses because of an old felony.
Kaplan said an incarcerated person with terminal illness and less than a year to live also might be a candidate to have their sentence revisited under the bill.
“It’s really up to the district attorneys and what their priorities are,” she said. “It’s also up to them whether they even use it.”
She called it “one of the most important pieces of criminal justice reform legislation that Oregon” has undertaken in a long time.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, a supporter of the bill, said prosecutors should always seek justice even if it’s long after a sentence has been handed down.
He said every prosecutor will review these cases differently. He said his office would likely use the bill in cases when people have done their time and are “doing great in life” but cannot reach certain goals due to their felony past.
He offered an example of a person whose crimes were the result of addiction. Say the person served time, got out, entered drug treatment, lived crime-free for a decade but still couldn’t apply for a social worker license because of the criminal history.
“I cannot fathom why I need to keep that person saddled with a conviction,” he said.