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Crime Initiatives and the "Asteroid Theory" of Direct Democracy in Oregon (From Policing in Central and Eastern Europe: Dilemmas of Contemporary Criminal Justice, P 112-125, 2004, Gorazd Mesko, et al., eds. -- See NCJ-207973)

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2004
14 pages

This paper examines the history and impact of Oregon Ballot Measure 40, entitled the "Victim's Rights Initiative."


Measure 40 was placed on the Oregon ballot in November 1996 by a coalition of citizen victims' rights advocates and prosecutors. It stemmed from a growing perception that Oregon's criminal justice system was unfairly slanted to benefit criminal defendants at the expense of crime victims and public safety; however, in addition to codifying the rights of victims to be informed of, to attend, and to be heard at court proceedings, the measure limited juries to registered voters, permitted non-unanimous jury verdicts, raised the standard for pretrial release for defendants charged with violent crimes, eliminated the possibility of early release from prison, made admissible all evidence that was relevant to a case, permitted only limited immunity for witnesses, and prohibited Oregon's judiciary from interpreting the search-and-seizure provisions of the Oregon Constitution more broadly than analogous provisions of the Federal Constitution. Measure 40 passed with 58.9 percent of the vote. Measure 40 was intended to have the impact of an "asteroid" in the sense that it sought massive change in the criminal justice system through the destruction of existing policies and practices. Although government agencies, especially State courts, were caught unprepared for Measure 40, the implementation process proceeded in good faith. Communication and coordination throughout the court system, facilitated primarily by court administrators, was a key to managing what could have caused unprecedented backlog and chaos in the courts. This paper concludes that Measure 40, as well as ballot initiatives in general, can make elected representatives and other government officials constructively responsive to the will of the electorate, provided that every effort is made by those officials to comply with the electorate's will as efficiently and effectively as is possible. 44 notes and 11 references

Date Published: September 1, 2004