Proposed Law Could Set Many Inmates Free
TULSA, Oklahoma - New legislation just proposed could allow hundreds of Oklahoma inmates to go free, with their sentences reduced to time served.
State Representatives Jason Dunnington and Jon Echols, both representing Oklahoma City area districts, jointly authored House Bill 1269.
Dunnington is a Democrat and Echols is a Republican, who share a common interest in criminal justice reform.
The bill would make the provisions of State Question 780 apply retroactively to past convictions. 780, passed by voters in 2016, reclassified some crimes that were felonies as misdemeanors.
Prosecutors urge lawmakers to use caution in applying the law without considering individual cases.
Representative Jason Dunnington of Oklahoma City said “We're doing the retroactivity because a date in time shouldn't make the difference between person A and B.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said “Retroactive application of 780 can be done - but should be under the oversight of the pardon and parole board via the commutation process. There may be many variables which contributed to a person going to prison: multiple prior felonies; termination for failure to complete a drug court program; crime reduced down from possession with intent / drug trafficking; history of violent criminal gang activity; pled in lieu of other charges (like out of town/state witnesses on a stolen vehicle charge). The commutation process exists for a reason, and qualified individuals should have to go through that oversight process. It is a post-conviction layer of review which gives consideration not only to the offender but to the safety of the public.”
The bill’s co-author, Representative Jon Echols said “There's some things in this bill we may end up changing, in 780, to make it work - if we're going retroactive. We've tried nothing. It didn't work.”
The bill would largely impact people held on drug possession and theft of amounts less than $1,000.
Kunzeweiler said “There's more facts to the story sometimes than that simple designation of possession of a controlled substance” and many times simple drug and property crime convictions are actually the result of plea deals that involve more serious crimes. “So when I'm trying to remove bad people off the streets in parts of our community and sometimes I catch people committing other crimes, I'm going to do that. And that might be a variable for people working on this legislation to consider. Do you really want to return that person back to the community?” said the D-A.
There is no firm number yet of people who could be released, but several criminal justice reform groups have estimated it would be around 2,500 people statewide.