Guest column by Joshua Marquis
April 2, 2023
One of the best and most common sense gun laws we have prevents felons from legally buying a firearm.
Yet Oregon state Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene, in an op-ed published on March 14 in the Bulletin, urged support for automatically expunging criminal records for many serious crimes — as if they never happened. Good news if you’re a felon and want to legally buy a gun.
Manning calls Senate Bill 698 a “second chance” for criminal offenders. I call it bad legislation, particularly at a time when Oregonians are on edge over gun violence.
More than anything, S.B. 698 is an insult to all crime victims.
If your family member was killed by a drunken driver, or your good credit history destroyed by an identity thief, or the security of your home violated by a burglar — those offenses will live on in your life. While some supporters claim they will “later amend the bill” as it currently stands, it will “auto-erase” crimes like rape in the second degree, and sexual abuse in the first degree. As currently drafted, this legislation would “auto expunge” the crime of a 40-year old man who sexually molests a 13-year-old!
But under S.B. 698, the offender is automatically forgiven, presumably so he or she can get on with their lives. They don’t even have to suffer a guilty conscience. It’s like they have a constitutional right to be forgiven.
If passed, this bill will automatically expunge over 90% of all criminal convictions by my calculation, including crimes such as manslaughter, sexual abuse, domestic violence, burglary. It is estimated that as many as 300,000 offenders convicted of misdemeanors and most felonies could benefit from this legislation.
Expungements already exist. In fact, as a former district attorney, I signed off on many expungements. However, this bill does not even require the person with a felony record to go through the basic process by applying, getting fingerprinted and submitting an affidavit to a judge to which the local DA and the victim could respond. (The fingerprint requirement enables the courts to know if the person already has a long criminal record.)
Manning’s bill also would waive all fees paid by the offender and create an unprecedented system that could be accurately termed as “automatic expungement.”
The Oregon Justice Department would identify which crimes qualified for expungement and make them automatic.
Mannig co-authored his op-ed with former Georgia Congressman Doug Collins, a Republican, and sought to strike a bipartisan tone. They also shared a military connection — Manning a former military officer and Collins a former Air Force chaplain.
They said the military would dole out “tough accountability” for “poor behavior” and then give service members a second chance. They suggested that the civilian criminal justice system should be equally generous with second chances.
They ignore that many of the crimes that would be automatically expunged under S.B. 698 are far more serious than mere “poor behavior.” They also don’t appreciate how many crimes in the civilian world — especially in Oregon — don’t result in tough accountability. There are criminal offenders in this state who suffer few consequences.
In fact, offenders have been the recipients of the legislature’s increasingly progressive criminal justice reforms.
If Senate Bill 698 passes, Oregon will have one of the most radical versions of “expungements” that exist anywhere in the United States. It represents a repudiation of any progress that has been made in truth in sentencing or victims rights.
Now, we are facing a law, that if passed, would make Oregon the single most felon-friendly state in America for wiping out serious criminal convictions.
Guest Column: Bill in the Legislature is an insult to crime victims | Opinion | bendbulletin.com
JOSHUA MARQUIS on
criminal justice, animal welfare, and the nature of the relationship between popular culture and the law.
See the Archives page for an index of all posts, including those prior to January 2019.