You’ve probably heard the phrase “the punishment should fit the crime.” Most people even agree with that idea. That’s what makes sentence enhancements for subsequent convictions in Oklahoma so troubling. They inflict additional punishments on defendants not for the offenses they just committed, but because they made other mistakes in the past.
This November, Oklahoma voters are being asked to decide if sentence enhancements are fair when they involve non-violent offenses. State Question 805 was put on the ballot through the work of the group Oklahomans for Sentencing Reform. The bipartisan group has been active in criminal justice reforms in the past, with their previous efforts meeting with widespread voter approval.
Sentence enhancements essentially give prosecutors the ability to invoke a defendant’s prior convictions when asking for a stiff sentence on a current conviction. Ultimately, that can leave a defendant serving a sentence that bears no real relationship to their crime — particularly when they are convicted of drug possession or property crimes, like theft.
While sentence enhancement is supposed to be “optional,” research data indicates that it’s used four out of every five times a defendant has a prior conviction. As a result, inmates in Oklahoma are likely to spend 80% longer in jail for drug crimes than defendants in other states, and 70% longer if they’re convicted of a property crime.
Naturally, prosecutors dislike the very idea of State Question 805 and want to see it voted down. After all, eliminating sentence enhancements for nonviolent crimes limits the considerable power they have over defendants and may make it harder to pressure people into plea deals.
If you’re facing criminal charges in Norman or the surrounding area, make sure that you fully understand the potential consequences of a conviction. You have every right to mount an aggressive defense, and an experienced criminal defender can help.