The pursuit of criminal justice reform has been occurring in the state of Oregon for years. One of the areas of focus in 2017 was the documentation of grand juries. In the Beaver State, prosecutors present their case to seven jurors, who then deliberate and decide whether the state has a strong enough case to proceed to trial. As an article in the Willamette Week artfully states, "grand juries serve as gatekeepers in the criminal justice system, but their decision-making is shrouded in secrecy."
This is because jury proceedings are done entirely in private. Though this is in part to protect the privacy of those who don't get indicted, it creates a situation where prosecutors are in power (as they almost always get the indictments they seek) -- because the accused doesn't get to hear a word of the discussion, the door is opened to unfair negotiations and "draconian" plea deals.
In hopes of evening out the odds, Senate Bill 505 was passed in 2017; it requires grand jury proceedings to be recorded and provided to the defendants. At the time, it sparked a heated debate between supporters, who wanted greater transparency, and prosecutors, who claimed it would "[damage] victims, [undermine] the criminal justice process and result in time-consuming and costly motion practice." In fact, it has been quite successful.
"By all accounts, the implementation of Senate Bill 505 has gone smoothly," says Mary Sofia, a lobbyist for the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. "It is becoming clear that many of the concerns [prosecutors] cited in order to oppose the passage of the bill have simply not come to pass."
Approximately 95% of criminal cases end with plea bargains. Advocates argued that the failure to record grand jury proceedings left defendants and their criminal defense lawyers without crucial information during the negotiation process. Bill 505 balances the scales in a multitude of ways, ensuring that fairness is always exercised in the courts.
Being charged with a crime is a frightening prospect, but evidence has shown that this new law will ensure you get fair and equal treatment regardless of the situation. If you find yourself under criminal investigation in Oregon, hire one of the nation's 1,315,561 lawyers; with this newfound access to grand jury processes, you'll experience a truly impartial legal system.