Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that she’s prepared to call Oregon lawmakers back to Salem for a special session in September to limit the retroactivity of a new law aimed at restricting the death penalty.
Lawmakers had vowed Senate Bill 1013 wouldn’t apply to old cases, but legal analyses determined that it indeed would cover death row cases returned to lower courts for retrial or new sentencing hearings.
“Given the seriousness of the issues we’re dealing with and the impact on victims and families, I think it’s critically important that there be clarity about the law,” Brown told reporters on a phone call. “I would support a statutory fix to address the misunderstandings regarding the bill’s quote, retroactivity.”
Brown said she would leave the logistics of queuing up a special session to lawmakers who have pushed for it, particularly Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene.
“It’s my expectation that Sen. Prozanski and others work with stakeholders and legislators around the state, frankly, to craft the language for this very narrow fix and get the votes to make it happen,” Brown said. “Should that be accomplished, I will call a special session before the end of September. … This session would be focused on this narrow issue.”
The law narrows the definition of aggravated murder, which is the only crime in Oregon eligible for a death sentence. Under the new law, aggravated murder is limited to defendants who kill two or more people as an act of organized terrorism; intentionally and with premeditation kill a child younger than 14; kill another person while locked up in jail or prison for a previous murder; or kill a police, correctional or probation officer.
The renewed debate centers on the law’s implications for the 30 inmates on Oregon’s death row. Appeals and court reviews of death penalty convictions grind on for years and even decades. It’s not unusual for aggravated murder convictions or death sentences to be overturned. In the past 2½ years, seven cases have been reversed. None of the people on Oregon’s death row has exhausted all court challenges.