Oregon Supreme Court Rejects Inmates Attempt to be Executed

Sunday, June 23, 2013
Gary Haugen

Convicted murderer Gary Haugen, who has been on Oregon’s death row since 2007, cannot force Gov. John Kitzhaber to put him to death, according to a unanimous Oregon Supreme Court ruling last week.


Haugen, who beat and stabbed fellow inmate David Polin to death in 2003, while Haugen was serving life without parole for beating his ex-girlfriend’s mother to death in 1981, was scheduled to die December 6, 2011, when Kitzhaber announced he was granting Haugen a reprieve from execution. Calling Oregon’s death penalty system “compromised and inequitable,” Kitzhaber also stated that he would not allow any executions to proceed, at least until the state legislature had a chance to consider and enact reforms.


Although he praised Kitzhaber’s decision initially, Haugen eventually decided not to accept the reprieve. In a lawsuit filed May 24, 2012, Haugen’s attorneys argued that a reprieve must be accepted by the inmate to be valid, that Haugen’s prior attorneys did not have his consent to file papers welcoming the reprieve, and that Gov. Kitzhaber exceeded his constitutional authority in granting the reprieve because a reprieve must be time-limited, rather than open-ended.


As predicted here one year ago, the Oregon high court rejected those arguments handily. Overturning a lower court ruling in Haugen’s favor, Oregon Chief Justice Thomas Balmer concluded that “the Oregon Constitution does not provide the recipient of a governor’s act of clemency with a corresponding individual right to reject that clemency.” The court also found that the reprieve is not open-ended because it will expire, barring some intervening event, at the close of Kitzhaber’s term as Governor.


Although Haugen has vowed to appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps on a theory that serving out his reprieve constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” even his attorneys admit that victory is “not realistic.”

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Oregon Death Row Inmate cannot Reject Reprieve, Court Rules (by Teresa Carson, Reuters)

Death Row Inmate Gary Haugen Vows to Keep up Fight to Overturn Reprieve (by Helen Jung, The Oregonian)

Death Row Inmate Sues to be Executed (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Haugen v. Kitzhaber (Oregon Supreme Court) (pdf) 


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