In yet another sad example of what can result when you mix a broken system and poor lawyering, the Court of Appeals today easily overturned the prostituion conviction of Lori Sue Palomo.
Oregon law provides that one commits the crime of prostitution when one agrees to engage in sexual conduct in exchange for a fee. A seemingly simple proposition right? One thinks immediately" of an exchange of sex for money or some other thing of value. The word "fee" necessarily implies economic value does it not?
Not so fast. According to the Marion county prosecutor in Ms. Palomo's case anything that had any, even non-economic, value to the person performing the sexual act could constitute a fee. Like "a kiss," or " a breath of fesh air." Thus transforming seemingly every sexual act between anyone in the state an act of prostitution.
Even sadder than the fact that a government lawyer would make such a specious argument regarding the legal defintion of the term "fee," is that a Marion County trial Judge bought it. Ms Palomo was convicted simply on the theory, unsupported by any evidence mind you, that she and her cohort must have exchanged something before engaging in a sex act in an alley behind a homeless shelter in Salem.
The Court of Appeals had no difficulty in holding what was always obvious. That the term "fee" means something of economic value and that Ms. Palomo's conviction should be overturned for a complete lack of evidence that she had committed a crime.
Whether due to the state's budget woes or otherwise, Oregon's criminal courts are overburdened, overtaxed, underfunded and understaffed. The trial courts are no longer functionally capable of guarding the liberties and rights of all Oregonians against prosecutorial errors and overreaching.
If you are charged with a criminal offense in Oregon you need an experienced and aggressive defense attorney by your side to ensure that you are not wrongfully convicted and/or incarcerated. As Ms. Palomo's case illustrates, in today's dysfunctional courts even the obviously not guilty can go to jail or prison without proper representation.