Legal observers worry that an Oregon Court of Appeals ruling yesterday could clog an already-overloaded justice system by allowing jury trials and possibly court-appointed attorneys for thousands of defendants accused of shoplifting, urinating in public, tussling with police, and other low-level offenses, The Oregonian reports. The Oregon Constitution grants those rights to defendants facing misdemeanor crimes. In an effort to save money, several Oregon counties with strained budgets downgrade many of those criminal charges to violations, similar to speeding tickets.
That means because the defendants face no threat of jail time, they don’t get jury trials and court-appointed attorneys. The appeals court ruled that a woman who was arrested and jailed on shoplifting allegations was wrongly denied a trial by jury. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office had reduced Tawanna Fuller’s two misdemeanor charges to violations, and a judge denied her a jury trial. A judge then found Fuller guilty of both violations and ordered her to pay a $600 fine. Fuller appealed, saying that despite the prosecution’s argument that she wasn’t charged with criminal wrongdoing, she still suffered the stigma of being labeled a thief and should have gotten a jury trial. The Court of Appeals agreed.