Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Daniel Abrahamson at (510) 295-5635
The Oregon State Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling today upholding Measure 3, the ballot initiative overwhelmingly approved in 2000 by voters that dramatically reformed Oregon’s asset forfeiture laws. Today’s decision comes in the case Lincoln Interagency Narcotics Team v. Kitzhaber, Case No. S50904
Measure 3 – The Oregon Property Protection Act of 2000 – was passed with 67.2 percent of the statewide vote – and a 60 percent majority in each of the state’s 36 counties. The measure rewrote the state’s forfeiture practices by preventing private property from being forfeited unless the individual was convicted of a crime, limiting the amount of assets forfeited in accordance with the severity of the crime, and directing the proceeds from forfeited property toward the funding of drug treatment programs instead of law enforcement budgets.
“Today, the Supreme Court upheld the clear will of the voters,” said Daniel Abrahamson, director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization devoted to drug policy reform, which worked with local organizations and individuals to craft and pass Measure 3 and funded the litigation to protect the law.
“Not only do the people wish to be assured that forfeitures are reined in, they shall encourage it by removing the carrot which otherwise would tempt the two political branches of government to treat the criminal law as a revenue-raising source,” noted Abrahamson, quoting from the opinion.
According to Abrahamson, “today’s decision not only makes sure that people have basic protections from having their assets forfeited, but directs the forfeiture proceeds to where the money can make the most difference in creating safer communities and saving lives: by funding drug treatment programs.”
Following its passage, the Lincoln County Interagency Narcotics Team, one of many drug teams whose operating budget was almost entirely financed from forfeiture dollars, filed suit in state court challenging the constitutionality of Measure 3, claiming it violated the state’s “separate-vote” requirement for ballot initiatives by making more than one substantive change to the state constitution. Backers of Measure 3 won an early court victory and the initiative has remained on the books through today’s ruling.
Portland attorney Eli Stutsman, who defended Measure 3 before the court, said “today’s decision brings a welcome conclusion to the long and complex battle over Measure 3. We appreciate the careful consideration that the Supreme Court gave this case and the high level of professionalism and advocacy by all the parties involved. Naturally, we are also pleased with the decision handed us by the court.”