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Some crimes leave their victims so damaged that they’ll never fully recover. Then, as if to pour salt in their wounds, the very people who hurt them are given relatively light prison sentences. Ezra’s Law, House Bill 4122 in the 2020 Legislature, aims to change that. It should be approved.

The proposed law is named for Ezra Jerome Thomas of Madras, 4, who was beaten by his mother’s then-boyfriend when the child was only 2. He was left wheelchair-bound and unable to breathe on his own, among other things. The boyfriend, Josue Jair Mendoza-Melo, received a 12-year prison sentence with the possibility of parole.

That punishment in such cases would change if HB 4122, sponsored by Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, who represents Jefferson County; Rep. Carla Piluso, D-Gresham, and others, becomes law. It would require a mandatory 25-year sentence for someone found guilty of committing assault or attempted murder that left a victim with permanent physical damage. The person would not be eligible for parole during that time.

There are exceptions, and that’s a good thing. A judge may choose not to impose the 25-year sentence if the criminal has not been sentenced for a similar crime and if there are significantly mitigating circumstances. He or she may also make it clear that the person being sentenced is eligible for early release.

Oregon’s Measure 11 law, approved by voters in 1995, sets mandatory sentences for a variety of felonies, ranging from murder to compelling prostitution. Persons convicted of those crimes are not eligible for parole.

This bill gives judges at least some discretion where sentencing is concerned, and that makes perfect sense. After all, judges are chosen because, presumably, voters or the governor who appointed them believe they both understand the law and are wise enough to apply it correctly.

There should be harsh punishment for those whose criminal acts permanently injure another. That said, judges must be allowed to use their discretion under some circumstances. This bill accomplishes both.

— The (Bend) Bulletin

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