Oklahomans to vote on SQ 805 – whether to restrict judges from considering past offenses when sentencing offenders

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – There is a state question on the ballot this November that supporters say would continue Oklahoma’s criminal justice reform. It would restrict judges from considering past offenses when sentencing offenders.

Supporters of SQ 805 say it would help break the cycle of crime in Oklahoma. Those against the state question say it doesn’t do enough to protect domestic violence victims.

“This is a time to step back and say why do we have so many people in prison; maybe our enhancements for non-violent crimes is the reason,” said Sue Ann Arnall, President of the Arnall Family Foundation and criminal justice reform advocate.

Arnall says Oklahoma’s high incarceration rate would be helped by State Question 805. The measure would prevent convicted offender sentences from being made longer or harsher due to past non-violent felony convictions.

“The prosecutor still has the option to give them the maximum sentence. It just means they can’t add three 15 years or three 20 years,” said Arnall.

Arnall says that’s important to break the cycle of crime and to reunite families.

“We are not becoming a safer state because we incarcerate so many people. Its actually to the contrary because we have so many children growing up without parents,” said Arnall.

“The way that the language as it currently is, is deeply flawed.” said Jacobi Nichols Whatley.

The Cleveland County Assistant District Attorney says she supports reform, but Oklahoma law doesn’t consider many domestic violence crimes to be violent. Therefore something like strangulation would only be able to be sentenced to a maximum of three years in some cases only a fine. She says currently, prior offenses let judges hand down tougher sentences.

“I can’t tell you how difficult it is to look a victim in the eyes and tell her that the fact that she felt like she was going to die, she lost consciousness during a strangulation event, and the max that I can ask a jury or a judge to sentence them to is three years,” said Whatley.

But opponents say most often offenders in those situations are charged with multiple counts.

“They still have the opportunity to put a person away basically for life if they want,” Arnall said.

Opponents say domestic violent offenders would be able to have their current sentences reduced if the question passes, devastating abuse victims. Supporters say there would not be a flood of those type of convicts getting out of prison with this state constitutional amendment. Voters will decide November 3.

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