Linn DA addresses local, state issues at forum lunch

Scott Swanson

Oregon legislators and the governor are making life difficult for law enforcement, Linn County District Attorney Doug Marteeny told an audience at Lebanon Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Forum Lunch on June 24.

Marteeny, who joined the District Attorney’s Office in 2003 and became District Attorney in 2013, and has since been elected to two terms, provided an overview entitled “Current events in the criminal justice system,” with a particular focus on criminal activity in Linn County and “issues Oregon will be wrestling with.”

The latter included Ballot Measure 110, which essentially has legalized possession of small amounts of drugs that formerly were subject to prosecution, what Marteeny called “taxpayer-funded judgment erosion, the impact of the 2020 Ramos v. Louisiana Supreme Court decision that requires unanimous jury verdicts, and Ore-gon’s expungement laws, which erase convictions of certain crimes.

He also provided overviews of current top felonies and misdemeanors in the county and how local law enforcement has responded to some of those.

Ballot Measure 110

Marteeny said the measure passed by Oregon voters in 2020, which reclassified possession amounts and penalties for specified drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, Ectasy, LSD and oxycodone, was, “I think, falsely named the ‘Oregon Addiction and Drug Treatment Act.'”

He said the county has seen a “huge drop” in possession cases in 2021, due to the new law, but that doesn’t mean the drugs aren’t prevalent.

He said that local production of meth dropped off significantly following the passage in 2006 of a state law banning over-the-counter sales of cold medicines that contain ingredients that are commonly used to make methamphetamine such as pseudoephedrine.

The law, he said, “had a huge impact on production.”

“Most of the meth, when I started as a prosecutor, was produced locally,” Marteeny said, noting that before passage of that law “we had meth labs, meth houses, hazmat suits. It just ruined properties. We had to spend a ton of money to enforce that.”

Eventually, he said, cartels restored the supply of meth in the area, but it wasn’t being made locally.

With cold medicines such as Sudafed back on the market as of January, “we’ll have to see if maybe distribution lines are so well established that the local economy won’t be producing again,” Marteeny said. “But I’d be willing to bet we’ll see production again.”

Although the number of drug cases has dropped off this year, “that doesn’t mean heroin is no longer out there,” he said, adding that the prevalence of Fentanyl in street drugs has significantly increased their health risks.

The county, he said, is working to get overdose numbers, which are more helpful than simply counting deaths in determining the impact of drugs on local communities.

‘Taxpayer-Funded Judgment Erosion’

Marteeny noted that he and Lane County District Attorney Patricia Perlow sued Gov. Kate Brown earlier this year over Brown’s commutations of more than 1,000 imprisoned felons over the past two years.

Initially, he said, the governor said she would not follow the examples of other states who were releasing prisoners due to COVID concerns, but then “quietly, without much press coverage,” let 1,000 felons out.

“I saw a huge number being returned to our communities,” he said, adding that a shooting in Lebanon was connected to a released prisoner. He said 54 felons have been commuted to Linn County, and 10 of them have been linked with new crimes since their release.

Marteeny said the lawsuit, filed in late January and later rejected by Marion County District Court, was heard June 23 by Oregon’s Court of Appeals.

“We’ll see what happens there,” he said, adding, “I’m not hopeful.”

Marteeny said he has no problem with the governor’s power to commute sentences – “my beef is her process.”

Two Oregon laws allow sentence commutations, he said, one giving the governor the power to commute sentences and the second establishing a process for applying for a commutation, including notification of the D.A. involved in the case and the victim(s) and providing a 30-day waiting period for that to take place. The latter has not happened, Marteeny said, and that’s his concern.

“The governor is arguing that it’s two processes – she can do it any way she wants or she can use the application process,” he said. “When the governor follows the first step but doesn’t follow the second step, it makes it very difficult.”

Judgments – the sentencing of a felon – provide closure to victims, he said.

“Now this opens up again. We’ve made some really tough phone calls and communications with victims of rape, very serious crimes, who 10 years ago felt they had closure, and now, out of the blue, they get a phone call saying, ‘There’s a chance that your person will be getting out.’ Emotionally, that’s a tough thing to deal with.”

Jury Verdict Case Impact on County

Marteeny said the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Ramos v. Louisiana, which ruled that jury verdicts must be unanimous, threw kinks into Oregon’s system, which has always allowed a 10-2 jury verdict and had already withstood a 1972 challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although the Supreme Court ruled that its decision applied only to future verdicts, advocates are petitioning the Oregon legislature to undo retroactive verdicts, he said.

“This is a big issue for Oregon,” Marteeny said, adding that it is “hard” to track down witnesses for “murder cases that are 20 years old or rape cases that are 10 years old. To retry a case is going to be nigh impossible.”

The Legislature tentatively addressed the issue in this year’s short session and is expected to take it up again next year, he said.

Expungements and Resentencing

Another area in which Oregon has broadened relief for convicted felons is the erasure of criminal records for an expanded list of crimes, Marteeny said.

“The law of expungement has greatly expanded in Oregon,” he said, noting that his office has already received more than 350 applications for expungements this year. “It used to be smaller crimes, but has been expanded to much more serious crimes. You used to have to wait 10 years, but now that has been shortened to two or three years.

“What that means is employers may be hiring someone who has three or four fraud convictions, but they’ll never know. I have people who come in with 10 or 12 convcitions and they’re getting them completely wiped off the board because that’s the state of the law.”

Also, Marteeny said, prisoners can now apply to the District Attorney’s Office to be resentenced.

“People sitting in prison, with nothing to do, will send an application to the D.A.: ‘Hey, can you resentence me?’ We have to give due process.”

Homelessness

Homelessness, Marteeny observed, was called “vagrancy” until, in the 1980s, government officials “decided everybody should have a house.”

“Is it merely the lack of a home that creates the problems we see on the streets? Are these otherwise hard-working folks that just can’t afford a home?”

He answered, noting that he believes the homelessness issue stems from “huge addiction problems” and “huge mental health problems.”

“Until we actually address those, we’ll still have folks out on the streets,” he said. “We will probably never not have that. When you legalize it, make something cheap and easy to get, it will get used more. What you see is all the things we label as a “homeless problem” increasing in our communities – overdoses, thefts, homelessness.”

Connections with Legislators

Marteeny said it’s vital for citizens to connect with legislators about concerns they have.

“Trust me,” he said. “I am actually a very optimistic person. I’m optimistic, even though you’re hearing doom and gloom.”

He pointed to a slide listing the state’s legislators and noted that he’s “spoken to every one” and that even those with contrary views have been “reasonable.”

“We live in a great country where we get to write the law. Sometimes it might feel like we can’t, but it’s amazing if you just reach out to your legislators. They will all listen to you. Suggest things. Tell them problems you’re facing. We can’t be defeatist. Too many sacrifices have been made to be defeatist.”

Top 10 Felonies of 2021

Marteeny displayed a comparison of crime rates in 2021 and the first half of 2022, listing the top 10 felonies prosecuted in Linn County last year.

Topping the list was unauthorized use of a motor vehicle – car theft (100 cases) – which, he noted, has this year already surpassed the numbers in 2021 at this point.

Others, going down the Top-10 list, were first-degree theft ($100 or more) (90), ID theft (80) and encouraging child sexual abuse, which, he said, is essentially distribution of child pornography – 75 cases.

“These are truly some of the most depraved images,” he said, noting that they depict abuse, including rape of children. Typically, offenders simply distribute the materials, he said, but occasionally investigators determine that one is locally produced, which is a separate crime.

Further down the Top-10 list are felony possession of a firearm (71), eluding an officer in a vehicle (63) and manufacture of marijuana (62), which jumped into the list last year, he said.

“We’re seeing the cartels coming in and attaching to properties around, really doing industrialized manufacture of marijuana, and shipping it back east. They’re doing it in such amounts that it’s completely illegal.”

Although the word “cartel” typically evokes associations with Mexican groups, in Linn County roughly half of the cartels are Chinese, he said. Problems are ongoing, he said.

“I went on a couple of raids last year and let me tell you, the theft of water and all kinds of pollution, the mess that they left behind was just awful.

“What they’d do is they’d approach farmers and say, ‘Hey, we have a legitimate business for hemp.’ They’d pay a pretty good price for use of the farm, but boy, they’d just trash it.”

When law enforcement arrives, “everybody scatters and property owners are left to clean up,” Marteeny said, which is often difficult, legally and financially.

Investigating such organizations is also difficult, he said. The fact that some grows are legal requires the county to do careful research before making any moves.

“What we try to do is we try to disrupt the organization as much as we can, try to work our way up the chain,” he said.

What Linn County can do, he said, is follow “economic principles” that apply pretty much across the board.

“If you can make your community distasteful for criminals to come and settle here, that’s going to prevent some problems,” Marteeny said. “So our goal is, the best we can, to work our way into the organization and explode it, disrupt it – send the signal of, ‘Boy, you don’t want to set up in Linn County.'”

The law regarding marijuana grows is still in what he called the “wild west” stage.

“The promise, when Oregon voted to legalize marijuana, that we’d have a nice, neat system, hasn’t come to fruition,” Marteeny said. “It’s going to take some more work on the law to have enforcement mechanisms, monitoring mechanisms, those kinds of things, to bring more order to this area that Oregon is wrestling with.”

Rounding out the Top 10 were strangulation/domestic violence (56) and first-degree sex abuse (51) – the average victim is 9, Marteeny said.

Marteeny said crimes that have “surged” in the past year include threats with weapons, trespassing, and crimes against officers.

“This is a trend that’s not healthy,” he said, listing various behavior he’s seen on the rise: resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, assaulting a police dog, spitting on an officer. “We’re seeing more and more disrespect for law enforcement.”

Conversely, home burglaries have been down for some time, and Marteeny said he attributes that to use of security cameras.

“Those solve so many crimes for us,” he said, noting that the double murder committed by former police officer Brent Richmond in Lebanon was solved using neighbors’ doorbell cameras.

Top 10 Misdemeanors of 2021

The top three misdemeanors prosecuted last year were driving while intoxicated (312 cases), reckless driving (295) and failure to appear (176).

“You’ll frequently hear a sheriff say this and you’ll hear a DA say this: ‘The most important bed in the jail is an empty bed,'” Marteeny said. “The reason why is because if you always have a bed available for when the next bad guy comes through, then you can send a signal to the criminal community that, ‘Hey, don’t do that. I’ve got a place for you.’ When you don’t have enough beds, that’s not a good thing and COVID has certainly affected bed availability. We’re starting to get numbers back, but COVID has affected the jail and what they were able to do.”

Others in the Top 10 are domestic violence (174), reckless endangering (passengers in vehicles involved in DUII cases) (168), second-degree criminal mischief (damage of less than $1,000) (139), harassment (largely domestic violence, but with no injury, such as a slap to the face) (124), menacing (death threats) (111), second-degree criminal trespass (on property but not inside a residence)(96), and driving while suspended (mostly DUII convicts who continue driving).

Retail Theft

Marteeny said one result he has seen of the COVID pandemic is “retail thefts have gone way up.”

Since his office deals largely with Circuit Court cases, “I usually don’t see retail thefts,” which are usually dealt with at the Municipal Court level, but he said the proliferation of shoplifting is “troubling” him.”

“You know, you walk into retail establishments and see more and more items are behind locks, that’s a reflection of thieves,” he said. “We never want to get to the point that, I’m afraid, we’re getting too far down the road to, where it’s normal for our kids – ‘Oh yeah, it’s normal that everything’s locked up. It’s normal that we have thieves at this level.’ We don’t want to live in a community where it’s accepted as normal.”

Corporate policies sometimes prohibit retailers from busting thieves, he said, adding that in May he met with local retailers to come up with solutions for that by putting law enforcement officers inside stores.

“Retail establishments have to have certain things in place before they can stop someone, pursuant to their corporate policy. Many times they know the person’s a thief, has stolen from them, but maybe, just for a brief three/four seconds, they were out of view and, per corporate policy, you can’t stop them. So they just walk out the door.

“Now, police don’t have that corporate policy. They have the policy of ‘can you prove it beyond reasonable doubt?’ The guy’s only been out of my view for five seconds. I know when I stop him he’s going to have that stuff stuffed inside his shirt. And he stole it. We need to stop that.

” I think it would be good to have patrols within retail establishments. Then it’s not only private security they have to worry about, we’ve got law enforcement inside stores.”

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