It has been popular for politicians who want to show that they are tough on crime to file petitions which raise the minimum sentences that a judge would be able to prescribe to a given felon for a particular crime.  Historically, some of these have passed and some have not.  Oregon Ballot Measure 73 is the latest attempt to try to set “one-size-fits-all” sentence for all criminals who commit the same crime.

In general, I am opposed to blanket laws that set a particular sentence for a crime, taking the authority away from a judge to choose the sentence that fits the needs of the particular criminal.  While it is easy to step back as a citizen and say that we should be harsher on the criminals, only the judge and those persons who worked on the case have the insight in a particular situation to make a correct decision.  Were there extenuating circumstances that make this particular case different than others?  Does the punishment fit the severity of the crime?  Would a different punishment help the offender reform and become a contributing member of society?  We do not live in a one-size-fits-all world.  The punishment must be the proper one.

In the case of Ballot Measure 73, we are taking two very different crimes and deciding what the proper punishments should be.  The measure sets a minimum sentence of 25 years for multiple sex crimes, and 90 days for third-time offenders of driving under the influence of intoxicants.  At a very basic level, I am not quite sure how a person would vote if they thought one of those two things were a good idea and the other was not.  I’m sure the drafters of this flawed measure thought the same thing, and are hoping we will just vote yes to “put the bad guys away in jail.”

Don’t get me wrong here. I believe that most sex criminals should be dealt with harshly.  Rapists should go to prison for a long time.  I also believe that DUI offenders should be dealt with harshly.  But I see no evidence presented that the  sentences prescribed in this measure are the best for each case.  Why wouldn’t a sex offender be best punished with a 20-year sentence?  Or a 40-year sentence?  Wouldn’t the age of the suspect and the particular crime committed have something to do with the appropriate sentence?

In the matter of sex crimes,  I worry about the things that may happen where this sentence does not fit the crime.  We can agree that child pornography is a bad thing.  So, if a teenager sends a naked picture of themselves to friends as a prank, and does it on multiple occasions, do they deserve to go to prison for a minimum of 25 years?  Hardly.  Does a family picture of Daddy giving baby a bath constitute child pornography?  No, however some have been accused of this crime when sending the photos to a developer.  I think we are at a loss if we do not allow the judge to insert come common sense into these situations.  If we feel the need to prescribe a sentence for these crimes, let’s do so after a public discussion of what those sentences should be, and under what circumstances.

Finally, if we are going to institute penalties that put people in prison for longer periods of time, we need to decide how we are going to tax ourselves to raise the money to do this.  We need to commit to paying for this if we pass it, without taking away from schools or police or other necessary programs.

If we want to change our sentencing structure, fine, let’s do just that.  However, this changing things one crime at a time, without appropriate debate on the matter, is simply ridiculous.  So is trying to pass off two very different measures in one ballot measure, without the option to consider one or the other separately.

For these reasons, please join me in voting NO on Oregon Ballot Measure 73.