03.29.07 Supreme Court Declares Self Defense Legal.

Supreme Court Rules “No Duty To Retreat”

On March 29 2007, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that Oregonians have no “duty to retreat” when faced with a violent confrontation.

This is certainly welcome news. It also means that several bills that would have accomplished the same thing may now be unnecessary. That is particularly good news, since in the current legislative climate, the chances of those bills moving ahead is virtually zero.

In their decision, State of Oregon v. Sandoval, the Supreme Court correctly notes that Oregon law contains no requirement to retreat from an attacker and that previous rulings to the contrary are not only incorrect, but obviously so,

The Court noted “On a purely textual level, ORS 161.219 contains no specific reference to “retreat”, “escape,” or “other means of avoiding” a deadly confrontation. Neither, in our view, does it contain any other wording that would suggest a duty of that kind.”

It went on to describe a previous Appeals Court ruling this way: “The court’s analysis did not focus on or even consider the words of the statutes that we now recognize to be pivotal.” and “We conclude, in short, that the legislature’s intent is clear on the face of ORS 161.219: The legislature did not intend to require a person to retreat before using deadly force to defend against the imminent use of deadly physical force by another.”

The Supreme Court points out “Indeed, the entire analytical flow of the Charles opinion is distinctly odd: The court did not examine the wording of either ORS 161.209 or 161.219 at all… Instead, the court set out the wording that the Oregon Criminal Law Commission had proposed to the legislature regarding the use of deadly force as part of the final draft of the proposed 1971 Criminal Code, which wording explicitly imposed a duty of retreat to avoid the necessity of using deadly force. Then, after noting that the 1971 legislature had rejected that wording, the court cited a view expressed in the Oregon Criminal Law Commission’s Commentary to the 1971 Code to the effect that “the statute probably was not necessary” because of existing Oregon case law..”

This is a great decision for those who are forced to defend themselves, but at the same time it is chilling that it was even needed. Oregon law, as we repeatedly remind the Port of Portland, is clear. We wonder how many innocent people have been sent to prison for acting lawfully.

This decision also points out how easy it is for judges to ignore the law and make a ruling that can destroy a person’s life. OFF’s experience in courts in Oregon has been similar if less personally traumatic.

This decision is an overdue recognition that the law is the law. It is regrettable that it was even necessary.