When an Oregon governor issues a pardon, it doesn’t mean a crime did not occur. It doesn’t mean a victim did not suffer. It doesn’t mean a criminal was never arrested, tried and convicted.
Senate Bill 388 would require that the official criminal records be hidden after a pardon, as if the crime did not occur. That’s wrong. The state should not hide from the public official records of crimes.
Amendments have been introduced to the bill to give a crime victim more say in the pardon process. That’s an improvement, though, at least according to testimony in the Legislature, that is already how the process works in practice.
Another proposed amendment declares that this bill is an emergency and for some reason needs to go into effect immediately. A carjacking is an emergency. This bill is not.
Oregon governors do not issue many pardons. They also can’t do it in secret. An attorney for Gov. Kate Brown said she has issued eight pardons in her time in office. Gov. John Kitzhaber issued four pardons in 12 years. Gov. Ted Kulongski issued 21 pardons in eight years.
SB 388 grew from the experience of Dondrae “Choo” Fair. He became active in a gang and carried out a carjacking in 1992. He was 19. He pleaded guilty to robbery in the first degree, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and theft in the first degree. He served a prison sentence and went back to gang life. After he was shot in 2000, he turned his life around. He became a well-respected counselor for people getting out of prison.
His conviction later caused him a problem when he had to undergo a background check for work. He sought a pardon. Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill, whose office prosecuted him, supported his pardon. Gov. Brown granted it in 2018. Fair’s criminal record, though, did not automatically vanish. Fair wanted it gone and — to be clear — he was able to get it sealed. Try to look up his record today in the state database and the crimes are not there.
The concept of SB 388 goes further than what happened in his case. It says when a pardon is issued the records would be automatically sealed. The public should be denied normal access to accurate information about crimes in Oregon. But crime victims are not uncarjacked or unassaulted. It’s never OK to conceal the public record of crimes. The bill should fail.