Kate Brown
Oregon Governor Kate Brown speaking at the state capitol building in Salem, Oregon, Feb. 20, 2015. Photo: Reuters

Oregon governor Kate Brown formally commuted the state's 17 death row cases on Tuesday, changing the sentences of those affected to life in prison without the chance for parole.

Brown made the statement Tuesday and condemned the death penalty as both "dysfunctional and immoral," which led to her reasons for the decision. The commutations are officially in effect as of Wednesday.

A moratorium on the death penalty began under Brown's predecessor, former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. The Hill reported Kitzhaber instituted the moratorium after the 2011 sentencing of Gary Haugen.

Brown's action to commute all death row cases only stands for current cases, as the death penalty is still legal in the state. The Oregon senate passed Senate Bill 1013 in 2019, almost effectively abolishing the death penalty in the state by removing future dangerousness as a factor for the jury when deciding to sentence a plaintiff to death and applying to past cases.

Capital punishment is in the state's constitution, meaning a different governor could end the moratorium. Democrat Tina Kotek was elected Oregon's next governor in November and said she will continue the moratorium as the death penalty does not align with her religious beliefs, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.

"This commutation is not based on any rehabilitative efforts by the individuals on death row. Instead, it reflects the recognition that the death penalty is immoral," Brown said. "It (the death penalty) is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction; is wasteful of taxpayer dollars; does not make communities safer; and cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably."

According to the non-profit organization Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), as of Nov. 1, 2022, 37 states have abolished the death penalty, with Virginia becoming the most recent to do so in 2021.

Oregon has not executed anyone since 1997.

Leader of the Republican minority in the Oregon House of Representatives, Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, said Tuesday Brown's decision was "a lack of responsible judgment," reports the Associated Press.

"Gov. Brown has once again taken executive action with zero input from Oregonians and the Legislature," Breese-Iverson said in a statement. "Her decisions do not consider the impact the victims and families will suffer in the months and years to come. Democrats have consistently chosen criminals over victims."

Brown addressed concern for victims' loved ones in her statement, writing she recognizes the pain and uncertainty they face as they wait for a resolution.

"My hope is that this commutation will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases," Brown said.