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As I See It: The real consequences of too many commutations

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The philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Political elites of the 1960s and '70s introduced many soft-on-crime policies that coddled criminals. Such coddling ushered in an era of record crime rates in the '80s. Those who could not afford to live in the elite, ivory-tower neighborhoods suffered burglaries, assaults, robberies, car thefts and sometimes even murder. All the while, the ivory-tower elites escaped the direct and terrible consequences of their policies.   

For the past decade, Portland’s political elites, led by Gov. Brown, have pushed through many soft-on-crime policies and legislation that prioritize criminals over crime victims. The latest maneuver has been to empty our prisons through the governor’s commutation power.

Statewide, since the onset of COVID-19, Gov. Brown has commuted nearly 1,000 felons back into our communities, 54 in Linn County alone. Releasing felons at this rate has de facto created a new sentencing scheme. Under this new scheme, the careful, deliberate decision of our local juries and judges is presented to the sentencing Caesar in Salem, who raises or lowers her commutation thumb, determining whether our communities will be condemned to more crime.

Recently, repeat offender Pablo Francisco was driving 50 mph in a 25-mph neighborhood, blowing through stop signs, all while intoxicated. He was running from police in a stolen car. Once caught, he was put into a jail cell where he smeared his excrement onto the cell walls.

Local law enforcement wouldn’t have had to clean up this mess but for the fact that Gov. Brown had just released Mr. Francisco from prison early by commuting two prior car theft convictions.

Despite his previous 17 criminal convictions, Gov. Brown deemed that Mr. Francisco, as she put it, “did not present an unacceptable safety, security or compliance risk to the community.”

Mr. Francisco was prosecuted yet again for this latest criminal escapade. A jury and judge again carefully considered all relevant circumstances and again ordered Mr. Francisco back to prison. Just like last time, the law-abiding taxpayer paid the bill for this process. Adding insult to injury, Mr. Francisco has again petitioned the governor for a commutation.

Mr. Francisco’s request should have been dead on arrival. Instead, Gov. Brown has asked my office to again submit a formal response to Mr. Francisco’s request. The governor’s blatant disregard for local resources and efforts is astonishing.

Ignoring history has heavy costs. Giving nearly a thousand commutations has real consequences for our neighborhoods and our local criminal justice infrastructure. It is nothing short of an abuse of the commutation power. 

Doug Marteeny is Linn County’s district attorney. He has raised his family in Linn County and has represented the citizens of the county in the courtroom for nearly 20 years.


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