Why do I need a good lawyer?

So you don't end up wrongfully convicted like Dennis Alderman, or wrongfully sentenced to prison like Franklin Brooks. Two recent Oregon Court of Appeals decisions, first here and second here, illustrate the dangers faced by everyone charged in state courts with the commission of a felony crime.

In the latter case out of Washington County, the court reversed Frederick Brooks's convictions for Robbery in the Second Degree and sent his case back to the Hillsboro court for resentencing. It turns out that the Judge who sentenced him committed two serious and obvious errors. First, she entered convictions for two separate counts of Robbery in the Second Degree when Oregon's "merger" law required her to enter only one such conviction. Then she compounded the error by wrongly and unlawfully determining that Mr. Brooks was not eligible for relief from the mandatory Measure 11 prison sentence of 70 months. It turns out that Mr.Brooks plainly qualified for consideration of a lesser non-Measure 11 sentence.

It was a hollow victory for Mr. Brooks, however. Based on the Judge's erroneous rulings he was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months in prison. By the time of last weeks' decision, he had already served his time. The time he will never get back. Nor can he seek redress from the Judge who sentenced him. She enjoys absolute immunity from lawsuits based on her decisions. "so sorry Mr. Brooks, so sorry."

In the former case, Dane Alderman was convicted of delivery of marijuana for consideration in Marion County. It turns out the judge in his case convicted him after considering irrelevant, inadmissible and supposedly confidential information provided by Mr. Alderman in his application for a court-appointed attorney. The judge had no business considering such information and plainly violated the evidence code and the law in doing so. It was such a patent violation of Mr. Alderman's rights to a fair trial that the Court of Appeals considered it "grave" and "of constitutional magnitude." Unfortunately, vindication also came too late for Mr. Alderman, who after being wrongfully convicted was placed on a strict compliance probation to the very judge who improperly convicted him in the first place. He, of course, was soon accused of violating his probation and ultimately sentenced to six months in prison by that same judge. He too has served his time. "Whoops! so sorry Mr. Alderman..."

Cases like these drive home the point that in Oregon's current overburdened and underfunded court systems that very real and very serious errors can be made. You cannot rely anymore on the courts or the judges to protect your rights. They simply have neither the time nor the resources to do much beyond process a constant stream of cases before them. An experienced criminal defense lawyer at your side may be the only thing that stands between you and a wrongful conviction that results in a lengthy prison sentence that won't be overturned until it is too late.


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