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April 21, 2000

A cruel example of the abuse of Oregon's mandatory sentencing law, Measure 11, by Oregon District Attorneys

The Oregon Court of Appeals, by a 5 to 4 decision, has upheld a 6-year prison sentence for a boy who, as a 16-year-old, had sexual intercourse with his 13-year-old girlfriend - who initiated the sexual conduct (The Oregonian, 4/20/00). If the boy had been 10 days younger, the acts would not have been statuatory rape according to the law; instead he might have been charged with a misdemeanor and likely would not have been sentenced to any jail time.

On the other hand, had the boy only been vulnerable to a misdemeanor charge, and under the circumstance of the girl's statement that it ws she who initiated the contact, and her mother's change of heart and expressed desire to let the boy go, the DA in charge might have felt it was not worth the trouble - especially since there was no career-enhancing high profile felony conviction at stake.

The Oregonian account does not mention that the Clackamas County DA is Terry Gustafson, who has for a couple of years been under investigation for perjury and for unprofessional conduct in the conduct of her official duties and is currently being disbarred by the Oregon Bar. Considering the DA's unethical history, it is no stretch to speculate that the Thorp prosecution was at least partly the product of her career considerations.

The Oregonian editorialized, A cruel example of Oregon justice (4/21/00), in support of the original sentence by Clackamas Circuit Court Judge Robert Morgan of 35 months, saying, "no one here will claim that Thorp did not commit a crime...." However a misdemeanor is not necessarily a crime and The Oregonian's position is largely based on Thorp's history of petty crimes and unsavory reputation of having gang affiliations. He was, no doubt, a pain in the ass for Clackamas area law enforcement, but he had never been sentenced to significant jail time.

The Appeals Court Judge, Paul DeMuniz, now a candidate for the Oregon Supreme Court Court, disregarded the grounds upon which the Appeals Court could have upheld the 35-month sentence: that the 75-month term "shocked the moral sense of all reasonable people." Along with the four dissenting Appellate Judges, we are shocked that the future of this young man has been so seriously damaged for what the girl and her mother say was a victimless offense. We are shocked that the court has disregarded the personal guilt now thrust upon the supposed victim and her mother for their part in delivering this boy into the clutches of the ruthless District Attorney of Clackamas County. It seems the best interest of no one except the prosecutors has been served, along with the sadists in our society who lust for abstract, generic revenge in the name of justice.

For Oregonians who believe that sentencing should take into account, case-by-case, the possibilities of rehabilitation and should promote that goal by considering the particular circumstances of each case, there is an initiative petition being circulated which has almost the full number of required signatures, that seeks to repeal Mandatory Sentencing in Oregon. If you agree that justice requires more from our laws than a one-size-fits-all rule giving more power to prosecutors than to judges, be sure to vote to repeal M-11.