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Understanding Oregon’s law on post-conviction relief

On Behalf of | Jun 10, 2024 | Post-Conviction Relief |

Virtually all criminal trials end with a verdict of either “guilty” or “not guilty.” Apart from post-trial motions concerning the events of the trial or an appeal, little or nothing happens in the court room after the jury announces its verdict and the court enters judgment accordingly. However, Oregon has amended its statute covering petitions for post-conviction relief in certain criminal cases by reviving the remedy known as “coram nobis.”

What is “’coram nobis?”

The doctrine of coram nobis is a remedy that is available to a criminal defendant who was convicted by a defective procedure from which no appeal is available. In most coram nobis cases, the writ is used to re-open the case so that the missing evidence can be presented to the court. The modern version of Oregon’s statutes uses the more modern phrase “post-conviction relief” to refer to the rule of coram nobis.

The modern version of coram nobis

The modern version of coram nobis is limited to a very narrow ground: a petition for post-conviction relief can be filed by or on behalf of a person who was convicted by a nonunanimous jury verdict. The party seeking the writ must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the verdict of conviction was the result of a nonunanimous verdict. Evidence in such a case is limited to a verdict form, a written jury poll, an audio or video recording of the trial, or a transcript of the trial.

Available relief under a petition

The judge who hears the reopened matter may grant one of several forms of relief: release of the defendant, a new trial, modification of sentence, or such other relief as may be “proper and just.” If the court finds that the petition for the writ was meritless, it may order the petitioner to pay the state’s attorneys’ fees in an amount not to exceed $100.

Legal issues in post-conviction relief

The legal issues involved in a petition for post-conviction relief are complex and subtle and require a clear understanding of trial procedure. While the statute does not prohibit parties from representing themselves, retaining a knowledgeable attorney is usually a sound choice.