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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Occupy Portland Earns Right to Jury Trials, Now Will They Get Them?

Posted by Nathan Gilles on Thu, Oct 3, 2013 at 5:53 PM

It’s been nearly two years since cops unceremoniously broke up Occupy Portland's downtown camps in the name of safety, hygiene, and the health of the city’s grass. It’s also been well over a year and a half since the will-they-won’t-they question of whether Occupy Portland defendants will get jury trials started as a fight between the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office and the ousted Occupiers’ defense lawyers.

Now, the judicial decision we’ve all been waiting for is finally in.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled today that Occupy defendants who were arrested on misdemeanor charges that were later reduced to violations by the DA are entitled to jury trials.

Now hold on, the story from here on gets a little tangled.

The court made its ruling in the State of Oregon v. Laurie Ann Benoit. Benoit was arrested, handcuffed, and booked on October 11, 2011 along with 49 other Occupiers when the cops “evicted” them from their encampments.

She was then charged with second-degree criminal trespass, a class C misdemeanor. This would have entitled her to a jury trial; only at her arraignment prosecutors opted to lower the charge to a violation. The majority of Occupy cases were handled in this way.

Lowering charges is a common practice for the DA. But Occupy lawyers weren’t having it, and, in early 2012, they filed a motion claiming this downgrading of charges denied the defendants of their constitutional right to a jury trial.

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