Oklahoma Has One of the Highest Incarceration Rates in the Nation
Video Transcribed: Murder by sleeping? It’s an example of one reason why some people may be happy about the decision in McGirt v Oklahoma. I’m Tulsa attorney James Wirth. We’re about to talk about overcharging and over prosecuting. Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation.
It was actually number one for women and number one for men for a period of time. Now I believe we’re down to number two in the nation for prison population.
So there are a lot of reasons that go into that, but I’ve got an example of a case that gets you an idea of why some people are happy that the McGirt came out and divested the state courts with authority to charge certain Indians for crimes in Northeast, Oklahoma.
And that’s the case of Dennis Lee Dennis, or I’m sorry, Dustin Lee Dennis. And it got a lot of press because unfortunately, it’s just a tragic occurrence where he was a father and he had his kids, and two children died in his truck of heat exhaustion after being in there in the heat.
And the state of Oklahoma arrested him and charged him with second-degree murder, or arrested him for secretary murder and brought him in based on an affidavit that said that he had gone to QuikTrip.
He had come home and the officer says that a neighbor, it was determined that a neighbor had video footage of Mr. Dennis exiting the vehicle and locking the vehicle, and going inside the house without getting the children out.
And that’s in the affidavit for the arrest warrant that was signed under oath by the officer. And he was arrested on that basis and he was held for a period of time, about a month in jail.
And then, it was in the news again, because it was in the news that he was released from jail. And the headline says, update, father released after video shows children climbed into a hot car on their own.
So contrary to what the officer said under oath in the affidavit for the arrest warrant, that it had determined that the neighbor had footage that showed Mr. Dennis exiting the vehicle and locking the vehicle and going inside the house without his kids, it showed that the kids actually left the house, went into the vehicle and got themselves stuck in there, and unfortunately, passed away.
And that is after the affidavit indicated that that’s what the dad was saying. The dad was saying, “I didn’t leave him in there.” But somehow, the officer said under oath that the video showed that he did leave them in there. Now they’re saying, well, no, that didn’t happen.
The video shows the kids got in there on their own. So he was released from custody on that basis and then the state was going to further their investigation. They furthered their investigation and they decided to charge him with second-degree murder anyway. And that’s the murder by sleeping.
So you can see there, the formal charges filed against that dad say that he was neglectful because he slept at the house while he was supposed to be watching the kids, and the kids ended up getting out of the house, getting into the truck, and dying.
And that’s obviously a tragedy and there may have been a crime that was committed there. But what I’d like to focus on is the fact that the state under these circumstances decided not to charge it with a lesser offense, but even though they’re alleging that all he did was sleep when he should have been watching the kids, that they charged him with murder in the second degree anyway.
And that is an example of overcharging that we see a lot in state court, where they go after the worst possible scenario to charge, even if there’s lesser offenses that fit much better.
And that’s why some people are happy to see the state is losing jurisdiction in a lot of these cases and that there’ll be going to federal court and tribal court, where they think the prosecutors will be more reasonable in deciding what the charges should be and in the end result in what they get.
So in this case, under the McGirt precedent, his attorney, Mr. Dennis’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction because the kids that died were tribal members. And the state court dismissed. And they referred the case to the federal government.
The federal government reviewed it and, interestingly enough, they did not see a murder by sleeping charge needed to be filed. They decided instead they were going to charge it as felony child neglect. So he is now facing federal charges of child neglect, but he got out of the court system where they were charging him with murder by sleeping.
And that is an example of why some people are happy about the McGirt decision, although it’s going to cause all kinds of difficulties and litigation. Some people believe that it may result in less overcharging, less over prosecuting, maybe less over-policing.
But if you’ve got questions about a scenario of a crime of overcharging of McGirt precedent and how it affects your case or your friend’s case, your family’s case, you’re going to want to talk about the specific circumstances with a Tulsa criminal attorney. If you want to talk to somebody at my office, go to make law easy.com.