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Prosecutorial Discretion in Oklahoma

Prosecutorial Discretion in Oklahoma

A dirty little secret in Oklahoma is that WHERE you get arrested is almost as important as what you get arrested for. For instance, in a few counties in Oklahoma, if you get a first time DUI, it is likely you will spend at least a weekend in jail, even if you have no prior criminal record. In others, you will get a few months of probation and the case will eventually go off your record. There is nothing different about these crimes, other than who the District Attorney, and who the Judge in that County is. Even when we are talking about bonds being set, the difference of a few miles can make all the difference. In Kingfisher County, a little over 30 minutes away, I had a client with a $100,000 bond for 7 pills. That same case would have been a few thousand dollars, at most, in neighboring Garfield County, even though the head District Attorney was the same, the Judge would place higher bonds, mostly at the request and approval of the ADA.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute wrote a good blog talking about some of these issues. You can find that story here. They make a lot of good points, but the thing I found most interesting was an interactive map of incarceration by County. Although it does not link to the source of the statistics, some of the findings are surprising. For instance, as a criminal defense attorney that practices mainly in Garfield County, I was shocked that Garfield County was 62nd of 77 counties in felony filings from 2012-2015. I would have thought we were much higher on the list. Much less surprising was Garfield County’s place in prison admissions – 10th of 77 and incarcerations for drug offenses – 6th of 77. While I would have thought we would have been even higher, it bears out my anecdotal experience that Garfield County incarcerated a lot of people, for a long time, for possession of narcotics.

The good news is this. Our District Attorney, Mike Fields, has “seen the light” and has more than embraced the voters of his district that passed SQ780 and is now offering many drug possessors the opportunity to not even have charges filed if they follow a regimented treatment process and do well on probation. Not only will this greatly decrease incarcerations from our area, it will give lots of people the opportunity to beat their addictions. Will it work for everyone? Of course not. But this dramatic shift in thinking about how to deal with drug addicts, and realizing that prison doesn’t cure addiction is a huge step in the right direction.

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