December 12, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Fair Shot for All: New report from 6th Amendment Center highlights urgent need to reform Oregon’s public defense system
High caseloads and inadequate funding place Oregonians’ constitutional right to a fair trial under threat
Salem, Ore.— The 6th Amendment Center, an independent nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance regarding the constitutional right to legal representation, released a new report Thursday that calls out serious deficiencies in Oregon’s justice system and highlights the urgent need for reforms to protect every Oregonian’s constitutional right to a fair trial. The report was commissioned by the Oregon Legislature and the Oregon Office of Public Defense Services.
“Every Oregonian has a constitutional right to a fair trial,” said Heather Stuart, executive director of Fair Shot for All. “Most people aren’t aware, but that right is being violated on a daily basis in courtrooms across the state. Without a legal representative who can devote the time and attention to present an effective defense, Oregonians are more likely to be unfairly charged and detained. This constitutional violation creates immense harm for low-income Oregonians, who are disproportionately people of color due to historic and systemic racism.”
“Right now in our state, public defenders are being handed massive caseloads defending some of our most vulnerable populations, but are not being fairly compensated for that work,” said State Representative Jennifer Williamson. “During the upcoming legislative session, we have an opportunity to fix this broken system and ensure every Oregonian has the legal representation they are promised by the U.S. Constitution.”
The shortcomings of Oregon’s current public defense system have received increased attention in recent years. A 2017 report from the Office of Public Defense Services summarized the challenge, writing, “High caseloads, inadequate funding, and an outdated contact model create significant risk that the legal services provided to clients fail to meet state and national standards.” Many public defenders in Oregon are juggling more than 100 open cases at any given time.
“Oregon’s public defense system is overloaded with cases,” said Morgen Daniels, appellate public defender, president of AFSCME Local 2435. “As a result, low-income Oregonians, many of whom are from communities of color, are entering the courtroom without adequate representation. This isn’t what justice looks like. Other states have moved forward with public defense reforms and are producing better outcomes. It’s time for Oregon to catch up.”
About Fair Shot for All
Fair Shot for All is a growing movement of community groups, racial and gender justice organizations and labor unions fighting together for the Oregon we believe in. We are united behind a vision of the future where all of us — Oregonians of color, people of all genders and abilities, LGBTQ communities, immigrants and working families —have a fair shot.
Fair Shot For All includes AFT Oregon, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon, Bus Project, Causa Oregon, Coalition of Communities of Color, Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT), Family Forward Oregon, Forward Together, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon AFSCME, Oregon Education Association, Oregon Latino Health Coalition (OLHC), Oregon National Organization for Women, Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon Student Association, Partnership for Safety and Justice, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, Portland Jobs with Justice, Rural Organizing Project, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Unite Oregon, Urban League of Portland, Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project, and the YWCA.
Learn more at www.FairShotOregon.org.