– Following George Floyd’s murder, NIKE and Metropolitan Public Defender, Oregon’s largest trial-level public defense service provider, became unlikely partners to improve Oregon’s expungement statute.
Oregon has allowed expungement of certain criminal records since 1972, but the law and process are so complicated and costly that only 5.5% of eligible residents ultimately obtain relief. The statute is replete with exceptions, convictions block other convictions and non-convictions, the least serious convictions have a lengthy “look back” period of conviction-free conduct that regularly results in a 10-year waiting period, and non-person class B felonies have the longest waiting period in the nation (20 years). Even non-convictions are subject to the same 10-year look-back period as convictions, plus an additional three-year period of no other arrests, dismissals or acquittals.
The impact of Oregon’s dysfunctional system is felt most severely by its BIPOC community who are more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted. Black Oregonians are almost four times as likely to have a criminal record as their white counterparts. See Paperprisons.org.
Metropolitan Public Defender and NIKE’s pro bono group, frustrated by the complex law and process, were inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s murder. They challenged themselves to create tangible change and co-wrote the proposal that became Senate Bill 397, with input from CCRC. Collaboration with prosecutors led to bipartisan support in the Oregon legislature (Senate 24-5, House 57-1) for the bill, which Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign. It will be effective January 1, 2022.