State v. Burke, C-2

CourtCourt of Appeals of Oregon
Writing for the CourtROSSMAN; EDMONDS
Citation109 Or.App. 7,818 P.2d 511
PartiesSTATE of Oregon, Appellant, v. John Clair BURKE, Respondent. 86-1797-; CA A63692.
Decision Date11 December 1991
Docket NumberC-2,86-1798-C-2

Page 511

818 P.2d 511
109 Or.App. 7
STATE of Oregon, Appellant,
John Clair BURKE, Respondent.
86-1797-C-2, 86-1798-C-2; CA A63692.
Court of Appeals of Oregon,
In Banc.
Argued and Submitted Dec. 21, 1990.
Taken In Banc and Resubmitted April 3, 1991.
Decided Sept. 25, 1991.
Reconsideration Denied Dec. 11, 1991.

Page 512

[109 Or.App. 8] Thomas H. Denney, Asst. Atty. Gen., Salem, argued the cause for appellant. With him on the brief were Dave Frohnmayer, Atty. Gen., and Virginia L. Linder, Sol. Gen., Salem.

Diane L. Alessi, Deputy Public Defender, Salem, argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief was Sally L. Avera, Public Defender, Salem.

[109 Or.App. 9] ROSSMAN, Judge.

The state appeals an order that set aside defendant's conviction, pursuant to ORS 137.225. The issue is whether a conviction for child abuse can be "expunged" 1 from one's criminal record after the effective date of a statutory amendment that expressly prevents convictions for that offense from being set aside. We hold that it cannot, and reverse.

In September, 1986, defendant was convicted of sexual abuse in the first degree. ORS 163.425. The victim was a four-year-old girl. Under the statutory scheme that allows certain convictions to be set aside three years after the successful completion of one's sentence, the trial court in November, 1989, granted defendant's motion to set aside his record of the conviction. It concluded that ORS 137.225, as amended in 1989, did not apply to defendant's conviction.

ORS 137.225(1)(a) provides:

"At any time after the lapse of three years from the date of pronouncement of judgment, any defendant who has fully complied with and performed the sentence of the court and whose conviction is described in subsection (5) of this section by motion may apply to the court wherein that conviction was entered for entry of an order setting aside the conviction[.]" (Emphasis supplied.)

Before October 3, 1989, ORS 137.225(5)(a) provided:

Page 513

"The provisions of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section apply to a conviction of:

"(a) A Class C felony."

In 1989, the legislature amended ORS 137.225(5) to exempt convictions for various crimes involving children. Or.Laws 1989, ch. 774, § 1. ORS 137.225(5) now provides, in part:

[109 Or.App. 10] "The provisions of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section apply to a conviction of:

"(a) A Class C felony, except for the following crimes when they would constitute child abuse as defined in ORS 418.740: 2

" * * * * *

"(D) Sexual abuse in the first degree under ORS 163.425[.] " (Emphasis supplied.)

The state asserts that the trial court erred, because ORS 137.225 no longer allows the court to set aside convictions for Class C felonies involving child abuse and because the legislature intended the 1989 amendments to ORS 137.225 to apply to convictions that were entered before October 3, 1989, the effective date of the amendments. Defendant argues that, if the 1989 amendments to ORS 137.225 are applicable to the setting aside of his conviction, the state and federal constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto legislation would be violated. Or. Const. Art. I, § 21; U.S. Const. Art. I, § 10, cl. 1.

The threshold issue is whether the legislature intended the 1989 amendments to ORS 137.225 to apply to convictions that occurred before October 3, 1989. Generally, when amendments are silent regarding their application to past events, we construe them to apply prospectively only. Olson v. Wheelock, 68 Or.App. 160, 162, 680 P.2d 719 (1984); see also Thornton v. Hamlin, 41 Or.App. 363, 597 P.2d 1307, rev. den. 288 Or. 1 (1979). However, here subsection (8) of the statute unambiguously expresses legislative intent to have ORS 137.225 apply, regardless of the date of conviction. ORS 137.225(8) provides:

"The provisions of subsection (1) of this section apply to convictions and arrests which occurred before, as well as those which occurred after, September 9, 1971. There shall be no time limit for making such applications."

Because the legislature's intent is evident from the express language of existing legislation, we need look no further. Whipple v. Howser, 291 Or. 475, 483, 632 P.2d 782 (1981). [109 Or.App. 11] ORS 137.225 applies to bar the setting aside of defendant's 1986 conviction.

The next issue is whether the application of amended ORS 137.225 to defendant's conviction would violate the prohibition against ex post facto laws. 3 In the criminal context, an ex post facto law is one that retroactively applies to events that occurred before the law was enacted. It criminalizes acts that were lawful when committed or makes an act a greater crime than when it was committed, changes the elements of the crime or deprives the defendant of a defense, permits conviction on lesser or different evidence than was previously required or increases the quantum of punishment for the crime. See State v. Gallant, 307 Or. 152, 155, 764 P.2d 920 (1988). Certain changes in the law are not considered ex post facto, even though they may have a deleterious effect on an individual. For example, a change in the evidence code may be retroactively applied to the detriment of a criminal defendant. 307 Or. at 155, 764 P.2d 920.

Because the statutory change in the present case did not create a new crime, change the proof necessary to establish a crime or deprive defendant of a defense, the only question is whether defendant would be subject to greater punishment

Page 514

for the crime of child abuse, if we gave effect to the legislature's decision that convictions for that crime may no longer be set aside. Perkey v. Psychiatric Security Review Board, 65 Or.App. 259, 262, 670 P.2d 1061 (1983). In Williams v. Board of Parole, 98 Or.App. 716, 780 P.2d 793 (1989), rev. den. 309 Or. 522, 789 P.2d 1387 (1990), we found no impermissible ex post facto application because the challenged rules did not "substantially change the procedure for considering the length of [the defendant's] sentence." 98 Or.App. at 721, 780 P.2d 793. In Lindsey v. Washington, 301 U.S. 397, 57 S.Ct. 797, 81 L.Ed. 1182 (1937), the Supreme Court held that removing the possibility of a sentence that was less than the statutory maximum was an ex post facto law. Similarly, a retroactive elimination of good-[109 Or.App. 12] credits, which reduced a defendant's opportunity to shorten his prison sentence, has been ruled impermissible. Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 101 S.Ct. 960, 67 L.Ed.2d 17 (1981). See also Williams v. Board of Parole, 107 Or.App. 515, 812 P.2d 443 (1991). The same logic has been applied to strike down retroactive extensions of probation. State v. Metzler, 72 Or.App. 555, 696 P.2d 576 (1985). In each of those cases, the court was called upon to determine whether the defendant was "subjected to a punishment greater than that to which he was susceptible when he committed the crime." 72 Or.App. at 558, 696 P.2d 576. In each case, retroactive application of the law constituted impermissible punishment if it increased the length of time that the defendant would remain under the state's control, decreased the opportunity to have a prison term reduced, or diminished the degree of discretion available to the sentencing judge. See Lindsey v. Washington, supra, 301 U.S. at 401, 57 S.Ct. at 799.

It follows that elimination of the set aside remedy for a child abuse conviction is not a "punishment" within the meaning of the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the Oregon and United States Constitutions. The availability of a procedure for sealing one's criminal record is unrelated to the length or nature of an individual's incarceration or constructive custody. It does not increase imprisonment, forestall parole or extend probation. It does not decrease the trial judge's discretion to impose the sentence that is most appropriate for the individual. Further, it is a...

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