Study Seeks to Counter Argument Against Resentencing Oklahoma Drug Crimes

Mar 12, 2019

A study finds not one of nearly 1,300 people in Oklahoma prisons last July for simple drug possession pled down from a serious violent crime.

Some critics of proposals to resentence people serving felony sentences for drug possession argue while State Question 780 made it a misdemeanor, some of those people may have been charged with a serious violent crime and pleaded down, making their release a public safety issue.

An analysis by Open Justice Oklahoma found out of 1,287 people in prison for possession last July, 94 percent faced no other charges, while four percent had additional, higher-level drug charges.

Of the 2 percent with charges that could be considered violent, many were misdemeanor assaults, while a few involved child neglect.

"The claims being made against the proposals to make State Question 780 retroactive are really just not founded in evidence," said Open Justice Oklahoma Director Ryan Gentzler.

Two people out of the 1,287 were charged with serious, violent crimes, and they were convicted of them.

"One person was convicted of a very serious offense back in the 1990s, has served their sentence for that offense and now has another sentence for simple drug possession," Gentzler said.

The two legislative proposals to make SQ780 retroactive include a check on its application.

"The people who are eligible would have to apply to the court. So, even if somebody with a case with a more serious charge applied, that doesn’t mean the courts would reduce the sentence," Gentzler said.

State officials estimate around 1,100 people now in prison would be eligible for release if SQ780 were made retroactive.

House Bill 1269 has made it to the Senate, and Senate Bill 357 may be heard on the Senate floor, but the bills will likely end up in a conference committee before lawmakers vote on a final proposal.