Since 1989, Oregon has followed a set of sentencing guidelines in order to determine the proper sentence for a felony criminal offender. These guidelines rank the seriousness of a particular felony crime and take into account a person’s prior criminal history. The crime seriousness and scored criminal history produce a “presumptive sentence” which is set range of penalties that are deemed an appropriate starting point for a felony sentence.
However, a Court is not bound by the presumptive sentence. The Court can consider aggravating factors and increase the presumed sentence or mitigating factors which the Court can rely on to impose a lesser sentence.
In the current 2013 legislative session veterans advocates advanced a bill that would allow Courts to consider evidence regarding a person’s military service as a mitigating factor at sentencing. That bill, Senate Bill 124, was unanimously passed both by the House and the Senate in late May. Governor Kitzhaber signed the Bill into law on June 6, 2013. The new law went into effect immediately and applies to all criminal cases that occurred before or after the passage of the bill. As a result, the new law is effective immediately and can be used to benefit veterans as of June 6, 2013.
There are good reasons to add military service to the list of mitigating factors. First, military service is relevant to show good character and a willingness to provide service to others. Second, veterans, particularly combat veterans, are sometimes adversely affected from their military experiences. Often, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has played a role in the underlying crime. As a Portland criminal defense lawyer, I have represented many veterans with PTSD who self medicate with alcohol or drugs. These individuals should be treated differently than people who are recreational users of alcohol or controlled substances since they are, for all practical purposes, self-medicating a service connected disability.
This new mitigating factor will come into play in a number of different types of felony crimes from drug charges to DUII. At James F. O’Rourke Jr. and Associates, we have always highlighted our clients military service, and the personal difficulties that are a product of that service, in discussions with prosecutors and with the court at sentencing. As a Portland criminal defense attorney, this is just a part of the comprehensive presentations our office makes in criminal cases. Most judges and prosecutors have responded positively to military service. The legislature showed compassion and common sense in formalizing military service as a mitigating factor.