OREGON DISTRICT ATTORNEYS
The Mission of the Oregon District Attorney is to uphold the laws and Constitution of the State of Oregon and the United States Constitution, to preserve the safety of the public, to protect the rights of crime victims, and to pursue justice for all with skill, honor and integrity.
MYTHS vs. FACTS
The Top Ten Myths About Oregon District Attorneys – Plus a Bonus Myth About YOU!
MYTH: We have a problem with “mass incarceration” in Oregon, and prosecutors are to blame.
FACT: Actually, Oregon has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the nation. According the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 25% of the people convicted of felonies go to prison, and that is typically for crimes such as murder, rape and robbery. And, prosecutors do not, alone, have the power to incarcerate a single person. Our criminal justice system is just that – a system with many parts. Our justice system is intentionally designed to avoid concentration of power in any one entity.
MYTH: Oregon District Attorneys are resisting reform in our criminal justice system.
FACT: Absolutely false. Oregon District Attorneys have always been leaders in reforming our criminal laws to protect the rights of victims AND defendants. The proof is clear. Compared to the 1980s, Oregon is now one of the safest states in the nation, while maintaining one of the lowest incarceration rates. This would not be possible if not for the leadership of Oregon DAs in criminal law reform. REPORT.
MYTH: Oregon’s prisons are filled with non-violent, first-time offenders because prosecutors always try to get the maximum sentence.
FACT: The exact opposite is true: Oregon’s prisons are filled with violent, repeat offenders. Non-violent, first-time (and second-time and third-time) offenders typically get probation or some other type of alternative sentence. The numbers don’t lie: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 75% of people convicted of a felony in Oregon never go to prison. The vast majority of those in prison are there because they committed a violent offense such as murder, rape or robbery. For non-violent offenders, Oregon DAs are committed to seeking justice in ways that do not involve prison, such as diversion, drug courts, mental health courts and other alternative programs. CHART.
MYTH: “Prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system.“
FACT: Um… don’t tell that to the judge! Actually, no single actor in the criminal justice system is “all powerful.” Our American justice system is specifically designed to prevent a concentration of power – especially when it comes to prosecutors.
Prosecutors don’t make the laws. The power to make laws rests with the legislature, and – on rare instances—with the citizens through ballot initiatives. Simply put, pretty much all crimes and their punishments are decided by your state representatives and state senators.
Prosecutors don’t arrest people. Anyone who watches popular crime TV shows knows that police make arrests, not prosecutors. Prosecutors get involved later, to make sure arrests are lawful and appropriate.
Prosecutors don’t convict people. Only a judge or a jury can convict someone of a crime. Prosecutor file charges only when supported by the law and the facts surrounding the case.
Prosecutors don’t sentence people. Only judges can sentence people, and only within the range of punishment set forth by the legislature. Prosecutors can, and usually do, make recommendations for an appropriate sentence based on the nature of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history. However, the judge is free to disregard the prosecutor’s recommendation and that happens regularly.
For more information on the role of prosecutors in Oregon, see www.oregonlaws.org/ors/8.610.
MYTH: Prosecutors only care about getting convictions and putting people in jail.
FACT: Wrong. Prosecutors seek justice, not prison time. Prosecutors are focused on one thing, and one thing only: justice. Sure, this can mean convicting someone of murder or child molestation, which results in a prison sentence. However, in the vast majority of cases, justice means probation, drug treatment, mental health treatment or some other alternative to prison.
MYTH: Defense attorneys and prosecutors are equally interested in seeking the truth and protecting our communities.
FACT: False. Under the American legal system, prosecutors and defense attorneys have very different roles and obligations. By law, prosecutors are charged with pursuing justice by seeking the truth in every case and by protecting the rights of everyone – victims, defendants and the community at large. Defense attorneys have one focus: they are charged with zealously representing their client regardless of guilt. The primary focus of a defense attorney is to protect the rights of their client. In contrast, prosecutors focus on pursuing justice, protecting the rights the victims, protecting the rights of the accused and protecting the safety of the entire community.
MYTH: Prosecutors are not accountable to anyone.
FACT: Ok, this one is real whopper! In fact, prosecutors are more accountable than any other actor in the criminal justice system. Who is watching the prosecutors? Everyone.
District Attorneys are:
Elected by Oregonians every four years.
Scrutinized by defense attorneys, the media, victims, the police and watch-dog organizations.
Monitored by local judges, the Oregon Appellate Courts, the Oregon Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court.
Required to abide by state and local laws, the Oregon Constitution, the US Constitution, the Oregon Open Records laws, discovery rules, Brady disclosure rules, Oregon State Bar rules of ethics.
MYTH: Prosecutors work in secret.
FACT: Anyone who’s ever watched the television news or read a newspaper know that this is not true. Literally everything we do is subject to scrutiny.
Here are ways that Oregon prosecutors practice responsible transparency every day:
The media cover our work extensively.
Every trial is open to the public.
Every court file is open to the public.
Many records in the prosecutors’ offices are considered public and can be obtained through a “Public Records” request.
Through our adversarial justice system, defense attorneys scrutinize every action that prosecutors take in discharging their duties. In fact, it is the defense attorneys’ job to hold prosecutors accountable by bringing any concerns forward to the judge assigned to the case.
What is “responsible transparency?” There are limited times when a prosecutor cannot speak publicly about a case in order to protect the integrity of an ongoing investigation, or to protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Other than that, our work is an open book. In fact, you should come visit your local DA some time. They would love to see you and answer any questions that you have.
MYTH: Oregon DAs prefer an “old school, lock ‘em up” approach. They are not open to progressive approaches such as diversion, prevention and treatment.
FACT: Wrong. Oregon DAs are leaders in creating alternative sentencing, diversion, specialty courts and treatment programs designed to keep people out of prison. And, we’ve been able to do this while still keeping Oregon one of the safest states in the nation. Virtually every Oregon DA has an alternative sentencing program, and some have more than 10 programs. For example, here are the programs in Multnomah County.
MYTH: Oregon District Attorneys won’t charge police officers with a crime if they unlawfully hurt or kill a citizen.
FACT: Oregon DAs take seriously their responsibility to pursue charges where appropriate without regard to a defendant’s occupation. In fact, all Oregon DAs are required to have a specific Use of Force protocol that guides their review of these types of cases. To learn more about the protocol in your county, please contact your local District Attorney.
SPECIAL BONUS MYTH REGARDING YOU!
MYTH: The citizens of Oregon have no idea what prosecutors do.
FACT: Hey, we know you are smarter than that! We believe that most Oregonians are thoughtful, intelligent and informed voters who have at least a general idea about the prosecutor’s role in the criminal justice system. And we believe that Oregonians are sophisticated enough to be skeptical of out-of-state interests telling them what to believe about their justice system. It’s our hope that reading this website will continue to increase the publics’ knowledge about this critical function of government.