State v. Hickman

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 10-08-2015
  • Case #: S061896
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Linder, J. for the Court; En Banc.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under Article I, sections 2 and 3, of the Oregon Constitution, the State is not required to prove that a defendant acted with knowledge rather than a lesser culpable mental state required by statute where a defendant claims his criminal acts were motivated by free exercise of religion principles. (Overturns Meltebeke v. BOLI).

Defendants, lifelong members of the Followers of Christ Church, believed seeking conventional medical care was a failure in faith; consequently, when their premature baby was born in the family member's home, Defendants did not seek medical care. According to their religion, Defendants must instead rely on religious practices including prayer, laying on of hands and anointing with oils. Defendants claimed that the baby seemed healthy and cried after birth, but experts for the State disagreed, testifying the baby would have displayed signs of distress from birth until his death nine hours later from complications of prematurity. Defendants did not call 911 even after the baby stopped breathing and turned blue, and experts testified that even at that time the baby could have been saved because of the close proximity of a fire department and the availability of special neonatal transport teams. At trial, Defendants argued that no reasonable person in their position would have known the baby would die under the circumstances, and that under Meltebeke v. BOLI, 322 Or. 132, the State had to prove that Defendants “knew” their religiously-motivated acts would cause the death of their baby, a standard higher than that required under ORS 163.125. During appeal, the Court of Appeals decided State v. Beagley, which rejected a similar argument relying on Meltebeke, and the Court of Appeals granted Defendants’ request that their appeal be summarily affirmed. On appeal to this Court, the Court first held that the statutes applicable to Defendants’ conviction are neutral and generally applicable on their face. Defendants never argued they were exempt from prosecution because their conduct was religiously-motivated, but instead renewed their argument that the State, under Meltebeke, had to prove they knew, as opposed to the required lesser culpable mental state in the statutes, that their baby would die as a result of their religiously-motivated acts. The Court held the rule in Meltebeke should be overturned as clearly incorrect because it had no grounding in the constitutional provision’s text or context to require “knowledge” instead of a lesser culpable mental state in order to impose a sanction for a religious practice that violates a neutral and generally applied law. Affirmed.

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