Oregon Ballot Measure 11 (1994)

Measure 11 of was a citizens' initiative passed in 1994 in the U.S. state of Oregon. This statutory enactment established mandatory minimum sentencing for several crimes. The measure was approved in the November 8, 1994 general election with 788,695 votes in favor, and 412,816 votes against.

The sentencing judge cannot give a lesser sentence than that prescribed by Measure 11, nor can a prisoner's sentence be reduced below the minimum for parole or good behavior.

Minimum sentences mandated by Measure 11
Crime Minimum sentence
Murder 25 years
1st degree Manslaughter 10 years
2nd degree Manslaughter 6 years, 3 months
1st degree Assault 7 years, 6 months
2nd degree Assault 5 years, 10 months
1st degree Kidnapping 7 years, 6 months
2nd degree Kidnapping 5 years, 10 months
1st degree Rape 8 years, 4 months
2nd degree Rape 6 years, 3 months
1st degree Sodomy 8 years, 4 months
2nd degree Sodomy 6 years, 3 months
1st degree Unlawful sexual penetration 8 years, 4 months
2nd degree Unlawful sexual penetration 6 years, 3 months
1st degree Sexual abuse 6 years, 3 months
1st degree Robbery 7 years, 6 months
2nd degree Robbery 5 years, 10 months

The measure applies to all defendants over the age of 15, requiring juveniles over 15 charged with these crimes to be tried as adults.

The measure was placed on the ballot via initiative petition by Crime Victims United, a tough-on-crime political group. Then-State Representative Kevin Mannix, who sponsored the measure, has since argued that violent criminals cannot be reformed through probation or short prison sentences, and that the time they are kept incarcerated is itself a benefit to society.

Ballot Measure 10, also passed in 1994, permitted the Oregon Legislative Assembly to change Measure 11, but only with a 2/3 vote in each chamber. The legislature has done so several times, in 1997 and 2001.

Proponents of the measure argued that judges had been too lenient in sentencing violent offenders. They saw the measure as critical for lowering crime rates.

Opponents of the measure argued that judges should be allowed discretion in sentencing and should be able to account for the particular circumstances of a given crime. They also objected to the requirement that many teenage defendants be tried as adults.

Oregon's prison population increased after Measure 11, and as of 2004, 41% of the growth was attributed to the direct or indirect impact of Measure 11. Crime rates in Oregon decreased between 1994 and 2000, but increased in 2001; opponents of Measure 11 noted that the trend mirrored national trends, while acknowledging that some likely re-offenders were imprisoned as a result of the law.

Background and context

Prior to 1989, Oregon judges would decide whether a convicted felon should be put on probation or sent to prison, and for those sent to prison, set a maximum sentence (known as an "indeterminate sentence.") Based on a subsequent decision by the Parole Board, the average offender would serve a fraction of the sentence handed down by the judge.

The Oregon Legislative Assembly established felony sentencing guidelines in 1989, in an attempt to achieve the following four goals:

  • Proportional punishment, imposing the most severe sentences on the most serious offenders
  • Truth in sentencing, so the judge's sentence would more closely reflect actual prison time
  • Sentence uniformity, to reduce disparities among judges
  • Maintenance of correctional capacity consistent with sentencing policy, so the criminal justice system would be able to deliver proposed penalties.

Parole release was also abolished by the establishment of these guidelines, and prisoners began serving at least 80% of their sentences.

Measure 11, passed in 1994, affected only specific crimes, which were covered by the sentencing guidelines from 1989 to 1994.

Various exceptions exist to the guidelines, and to Measure 11 restrictions on sentencing.

One unfortunate and unforeseen consequence of Measure 11, is that first time offenders, including juveniles, are treated and sentenced just the same as a multiple offender. Additionally, opponents site the State or District Attorney's office is granted greater power than the original framers of the U.S. constitution and Bill of Rights intended to be granted to the State, thus bypassing the third leg of government, the judiciary.

Political impact

The passage of Measure 11 was a central issue of Governor John Kitzhaber's first term, and remains a matter of controversy in Oregon politics. Supporters credit Measure 11 for reducing crime rates. Opponents argue Measure 11 pressures innocent defendants into plea bargains for lesser (non-Measure 11) crimes, due to fear of mandatory sentences.

In 2000, Measure 94 was put on the ballot in an attempt to repeal Measure 11. This measure was defeated 387,068 to 1,073,275.

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