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Oregon Post-conviction Judgment Violates State Law

Last year the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s judgment denying a prisoner’s collateral appeal, because the judgment violated state law.

Following the direct appeal of a conviction and sentence to the Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court, Oregon prisoners may file a collateral appeal. Generally, claims raised in a post-conviction relief (PCR) action must be framed as ineffective assistance of trial or appellate counsel. See: Palmer v. State, 318 Ore. 352, 867 P.2d 1368 (Or. 1994). However, there are some narrow exceptions to that rule.

Oregon prisoner Patrick McKeachie filed a PCR action asserting four claims for relief. In his second claim, he alleged prosecutorial misconduct on the basis that prosecutors had withheld evidence from the defense. In his fourth claim, he alleged general due process violations in several different ways. The PCR court entered a judgment denying relief on all four claims raised in McKeachie’s petition.

The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, finding that the judgment was deficient with respect to McKeachie’s second and fourth claims.

A judgment granting or denying PCR “must clearly state the grounds on which the case was determined, and whether a state or federal question was presented and decided.” ORS 138.640(1). Quoting Datt v. Hill, 347 Ore. 672, 227 P.3d 714 (Or. 2010), the appellate court observed that “a judgment denying claims for post-conviction relief must, at a minimum: (1) identify the claims for relief that the court considered and make separate rulings on each claim; (2) declare, with regard to each claim, whether the denial is based on a petitioner’s failure to utilize or follow available state procedures or a failure to establish the merits of the claim; and (3) make the legal bases for denial of relief apparent.”

The Court of Appeals held that the PCR court’s judgment did not comply with the third Datt prong by failing to clearly state the legal bases for the denial of the second and fourth claims. Specifically, in denying McKeachie’s prosecutorial misconduct claim, “the judgment addresses only one of several items of evidence that petitioner alleges were withheld as discovery violations, and omits mention of the rest.” Similarly, in denying the due process claim, “the judgment addresses only a subset of the denials of due process alleged and omits mention of the rest.” As such, “the judgment is not sufficient to ‘make the legal bases for denial of relief apparent’” in violation of ORS 138.640(1), the Court of Appeals wrote.

The case was remanded for the lower court “to enter a judgment in compliance with the statute.” See: McKeachie v. Coursey, 271 Ore.App. 575, 350 P.3d 610 (Or. Ct. App. 2015). 

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Related legal case

McKeachie v. Coursey