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Audit Finds Oregon Victims Denied Restitution; Prosecutors Largely to Blame

An audit by the Oregon Secretary of State, released in early 2010, found that crime victims are not getting restitution and prosecutors are largely to blame.

The 2003 Oregon legislature required prosecutors to investigate and present evidence of economic losses suffered by victims, and required judges to order restitution when those losses are substantiated.

State auditors reviewed prosecution records in four of 36 Oregon counties involving 210 restitution-eligible cases. About half (111) of those cases did not include restitution because the victim did not suffer an economic loss or was compensated in other ways, such as by insurance payouts and court-ordered fines.

In 99 cases, about one-third of the affected victims did not provide all of the necessary documentation to claim restitution. In two-thirds of those cases, however, prosecutors failed to take necessary steps to obtain orders of restitution.

Prosecutors defended their failures, claiming they lacked the resources to investigate economic losses suffered by all victims. “Frankly, we just don’t hear back from some of the victims,” said John Sewell, district attorney for Hood River County and president of the Oregon District Attorney’s Association.

Sewell blamed the bad economy and the lack of a statewide data system, which the legislature had rejected due to insufficient funding. “In these economic times, it’s somewhat understandable,” said Sewell. “But it’s frustrating.”

Coos County District Attorney R. Paul Frasier, whose county was among those audited, challenged the auditors’ recommendation that prosecutors contact victims by phone or in person if they do not respond to letters. “How much time should we spend going after victims, saying ‘What do you want us to do?’” asked Frasier, noting that such steps would require time and resources that many prosecutors do not have.

Multnomah County District Attorney Michael D. Schrunk, whose county was also audited, responded to the report by saying that devoting more resources to tracking down restitution for victims would probably mean fewer prosecutions of low-level offenses.
“While we try hard to pursue restitution, we simply do not have the staff,” he stated.

Crime victims further have a right to restitution under Section 42 of Oregon’s constitution, which provides that victims have “The right to receive prompt restitution from the convicted criminal who caused the victim’s loss or injury.”

But only, apparently, when prosecutors are willing and able to do their jobs.

Sources: The Oregonian,

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