Probation Violators, Prison Inmates to Benefit
It started on an election day in 2016 when Oklahoma voters said yes to justice reform. Voters’ taste for reform is now cascading into new opportunities available to thousands of individuals involved with the Oklahoma criminal justice system.
New Oklahoma laws now allow commutations of harsh sentences, resentencing for minor offenses, and new chances for a clean record after prior convictions. Individuals facing long prison sentences for probation violations may now qualify for sentences of under a year – which in some cases can amount to time already served. Thousands of others with felony convictions may now qualify to have their records expunged.
In November 2019, the largest single commutation of prison sentences in U.S. history will mean immediate release for hundreds of prisoners convicted for personal drug possession and property crimes with a value of less than $1,000. Hundreds more prisoners may also seek release from prison in the near future.
The commutations and reduced sentences resulted from a ballot measure voters approved by huge margins in 2016. Under State Question 780, simple drug possession and low-dollar property crimes were reclassified from felony to misdemeanor offenses. In 2019, legislators approved a bill that made the changes retroactive.
The legislature’s retroactive application of State Question 780 set in motion an avalanche of changes. Inmates serving long sentences for drug crimes and low-level property crimes qualified to have their sentences commuted. Individuals on probation can ask to have deferred or suspended sentences reconsidered. And a slate of offenses classified as felonies under older laws now qualify for expungement as misdemeanors.
Expedited and Ordinary Commutations Under the New Law
The Oklahoma legislature provided in HB 1269 instructed the Department of Corrections to identify prisoners who may qualify for commutation. The same bill required the Probation and Parole Board to create a system by which those prisoners could be automatically considered for release.
The group of prisoners who qualify for expedited commutation are then assessed based on factors such as their conduct in prison and input from the district attorneys who filed charges against them.
Of the approximately 900 inmates who could be eligible for the expedited commutation process, perhaps as many as half of them will finally have their sentences commuted in a special meeting of the Pardon and Parole Board. Those passed over for expedited commutation may still benefit from commutation under the usual procedure or apply for resentencing under the new criminal classifications of their convictions. If your friend or family member was passed over for expedited commutation, contact a criminal law attorney to discover how you might help get their sentence reduced.
Penalties for Probation Violations Reduced
Anyone convicted of an eligible felony through trial or by plea agreement under the old laws may benefit from resentencing as a misdemeanor under the new Oklahoma law. The changes can be especially helpful for individuals on probation facing either revocation of a suspended sentence or acceleration of a deferred judgment. Rather than serving lengthy sentences provided by old felony laws, they are now eligible for resentencing at misdemeanor-level penalties. The maximum jail time for an Oklahoma misdemeanor is one year.
Individuals convicted prior to July 2017 appearing in court for probation violations may only be sentenced to as much time in jail as they would receive under the new law. For those charged with crimes identified in State Question 780 and HB 1269, sentences after revocation of a suspended sentence or motion to accelerate a deferred judgment are limited to no more than one year in jail.
Urgent Consultation: Oklahoma Post-Conviction Relief Lawyer
Anyone who has been convicted of a crime identified in State Question 780 and HB 1269 may be eligible for some sort of relief. Contact a post-conviction attorney at Wirth Law Office – Tulsa to find out how you can now move forward more quickly after conviction for drug possession or a small-value felony property crime.
Contact 918-879-1681 today for a free initial consultation.