Following a lengthy contested hearing on Tuesday, Lane County Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Chanti upheld the prosecutor’s determination that a homicide victim’s aunt was a “victim” for purposes of affording her crime victim’s rights in a prosecution for aggravated murder.
Anjelica Swartout is accused of smothering her newborn and putting the body in a dumpster after giving birth in a bathroom of a motel where she worked. Swartout’s sister, Jewel Sward, alerted authorities after finding inconsistencies in Swartout’s story about what happened to the baby.
Prosecutors designated Sward the “victim” under Article I, Section 42 of the Oregon Constitution, thereby giving her certain rights including the right to attend the entire trial. Swartout’s attorneys filed a motion to disallow the “victim” designation, arguing that Sward did not meet the statutory or constitutional definition of “victim,” and that allowing her to remain in the courtroom throughout the trial would violate their client’s constitutional due process rights because Sward would be able to tailor her testimony to that of others and she could be referred to as a “victim” before any crime had been proven.
Defense attorney Eve Oldenkamp also argued that the Oregon Constitution’s delegation to the prosecutor of the authority to designate who is a victim of crime violates Swartout’s federal due process rights as applied in this case. In rejecting Oldenkamp’s argument, Judge Suzanne Chanti made it clear she had done her homework – she referred to the legislative history of Article I, Section 42, and cited to several cases from other jurisdictions in which similar challenges had been rejected.
In supporting his reasons for designating Sward as a victim, prosecuting attorney Bob Lane told the court that, among other listed reasons, Sward had given Swartout emotional support during the pregnancy, had been excited about the birth and saddened by the death of the infant, and had planned the baby’s funeral.
Another motion filed by the defense asked the court to order Sward to show the jury a tattoo she got after the death of Swartout’s baby showing the baby’s name. Judge Chanti deferred ruling on the motion until time of trial, but indicated after hearing from Sward’s attorney that if she allowed the tattoo to be shown to the jury, a photo of the tattoo would likely be more appropriate “because of privacy and dignity issues.”
Sward was represented by Erin K. Olson, a pro bono attorney appearing on behalf of the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center.