The estimated 160 people arrested during Occupy Portland protests in the past five months have won the right to jury trials—a legal victory that advocates say will force prosecutors to mount a case in every arrest.
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Albrecht ruled
Wednesday that for certain misdemeanors charges—class A and
B—defendants have the right to a trial, even though prosecutors have reduced many charges to violations.
Bear Wilner-Nugent, a member of the National Lawyers Guild, who's representing Occupier Keller Henry, tells WW
that many people arrested in the protests want a trial because they believe they have a constitutional right to a full airing of the charges against them.
He says that he believes the DA's office has been trying to avoid trials
when it reduced many charges to violations, the legal equivalent of a
traffic ticket. Violations result in a fine and no probation or jail
Chief Deputy District Attorney Rod Underhill declined to comment on any
of the Occupy cases or Albrecht's ruling, but he says reducing
misdemeanors to violations is a common practice. (Underhill, by the way, is running for district attorney.)
The ruling could mean many Occupiers won't face any punishment at all.
Wilner-Nugent says trials are expensive, and the DA’s office can drop charges if they
can’t afford to prosecute them. He says forcing the state to drop the charges isn’t his strategy.
“The point of defending the charges (in court) is not to run up the meter on the state," he says. "We’re not trying to make it more expensive for expense’s sake.”
Nevertheless, he says, every Occupier he knows of plans to go to court.
“Could we resolve it? Yes, we probably could resolve it," he says, "But this case will go to trial.... I think they’ll just drop the charges. I think they should, and I think they will.”