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Appeal Doesn’t Stay ODOC’s “Second Look” Release Plan Obligation

The en banc Oregon Supreme Court held on October 22, 2015 that appealing a trial court order conditionally releasing a juvenile murderer who had served half his minimum sentence did not relieve prison officials of their statutory obligation to prepare the prisoner’s release plan.

Oregon juveniles who: 1) committed their crimes after June 30, 1995; 2) were 14 years old or younger at the time of the offense; 3) were waived into adult court and convicted of a criminal offense; and 4) sentenced to at least 24 months in prison are eligible to request a “second look hearing” upon serving half their sentence.

Second look hearings involve a two-step process. The first step is initiated by the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC), which files a notice and request for a second look hearing no more than 120 days and no less than 60 days before the prisoner has served one-half of his sentence. The trial court must then schedule a hearing within 30 days of completion of one-half of the sentence.

The prisoner bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that: 1) he has been rehabilitated and reformed; 2) if conditionally released, would not be a threat to the safety of the victim, the victim’s family or the community; and 3) would comply with the release conditions. Following the hearing, the sentencing court may order that the prisoner serve out the remainder of the original sentence or be conditionally released at a time specified by the court.

The second step of the process is triggered by the court’s finding that conditional release is warranted. The ODOC is then required to prepare and submit a proposed release plan within 45 days. If the proposed plan is not approved, the sentencing court must return the plan to the ODOC with recommended modifications and additions. Prison officials must then submit a revised plan.

If the court does not approve the revised plan, it may make any changes it deems appropriate and prepare a final release plan. When the final release plan is approved, the court must enter a final order conditionally releasing the prisoner, who remains under the sentencing court’s jurisdiction during the period of conditional release.

Trevor Troy Walraven committed a 1998 homicide when he was 14 years old. He was waived into adult court, convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to life with a 30-year minimum prison term.

After Walraven had served 15 years, the ODOC did not file the required second look hearing request. Walraven then moved the sentencing court for a second look hearing. When his motion was denied, he filed mandamus actions against both the ODOC and sentencing court. The court then agreed to hold a second look hearing; thirteen witnesses testified during the two-day hearing.

“The witnesses ... characterized Mr. Walraven as a unique young man who has greatly profited from his years in incarceration,” the trial court judge wrote. “And I would say that not only he has profited by taking the right course after his incarceration by seeking every conceivable means of bettering himself, he’s also bettered the lives of those who have been around him and those that he is concerned for.”

Noting Walraven’s “extraordinary achievements,” the judge added, “I can only conclude that Mr. Walraven is unique. He’s unusual, remarkable in regard to the efforts he’s displayed to make himself a better person, and ... to help others.”

Thinking of other juveniles offenders sentenced as adults, the court asked, “What kind of message would be sent to them if Mr. Walraven is not granted the relief requested? I mean if not him, then who would be eligible?”

The trial court therefore issued an order on September 15, 2014, granting Walraven conditional release and ordering the ODOC “to prepare a proposed release plan and submit it to the court no later than 45 days following the completion of the hearing.”

Thirty days later the state appealed. On the forty-fifth day, the ODOC refused to submit a release plan, claiming that the trial court’s conditional release order and the ODOC’s statutory duty to prepare a release plan were automatically stayed during the appeal.

Walraven then filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the Oregon Supreme Court, seeking to compel the ODOC to immediately prepare the ordered release plan. Following an extensive statutory construction analysis, the Court held that the trial court’s order and the ODOC’s duty to prepare the release plan were not automatically stayed while the state’s appeal was pending. As such, the state Supreme Court instructed the ODOC to “prepare a proposed release plan and submit that plan to the circuit court in accordance with ORS 420A.206(1)(a).” See: State ex rel Walraven v. Department of Corrections, 358 Ore. 71, 362 P.3d 1163 (Or. 2015) (en banc). 

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Related legal case

State ex rel Walraven v. Department of Corrections