In State v. Haugen, 349 Or 174 (2010) the Oregon Supreme Court inadvertently showed that there is sometimes a quirky humor even in an appeal from a death sentence for aggravated murder. More to the point, it illustrates the law’s earnest response to sometimes the most absurd argument.
Haugen was sentenced to life in prison for murder in 1981. In 2003, while still serving that life sentence, he and another prisoner murdered a third prison inmate. Haugen argued on appeal that, among other things, the trial court had been mistaken in not ordering that he should be allowed to complete serving his life sentence on his 1981 murder conviction before the death sentence could be imposed on his second murder conviction.
Although the court required 5 pages of statutory analysis to reach its conclusion, it did ultimately reject Haugen’s argument and decided that his life sentence would end when the death sentence is imposed. In other words, the Court held that his 1981 life sentence was not, itself, a reason for delay in Haugen’s execution. Unfortunately, in reaching its conclusion the Court seemed unaware of the absurdity both of Haugen’s argument and of any other conclusion it might have reached.
It’s also worth noting that it took 7 years to conclude this direct appeal to the Supreme Court.