Monday, February 24, 2020

Past Criminal Acts should be considered in Sentencing!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
By Steve Fair

     On Saturday, I was approached by a nice looking young man in a Wal-Mart parking lot asking me if I was a registered voter in Oklahoma.  “I am, are you?” I asked him.  “I am registered to vote,” he replied.  “Do you live in Oklahoma?” I asked.  “Yes, I do- in Norman,” he said.  “Would you consider signing criminal justice reform initiative petition #805 and by signing would help get it on the November ballot?” he asked.  “No, I replied.  I am familiar with #805 and do not agree with what it would do,” I said.  “Thank you and have a nice day,” the young man said as he scurried across the parking lot to a couple. Three observations:
     First, I like to see young people engaged in the political process, no matter what their political leanings.  I suspect the young man was being compensated to carry a clipboard and gather signatures, but perhaps not.  We need more young people involved in the political arena, and those who will learn the most will do the ‘boots on the ground’ work necessary to get candidates elected and issues on the ballot. 
     Second, I appreciate that Oklahoma has an initiative petition process.  Less than half the states in the U.S. allow their citizens to initiate legislation through the petition process.  The number of signatures is tied to the total votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.  To amend the state constitution, petitioners must gather 178,000 signatures in a 90 day period.  If they get 95,000, they can have a state statue considered on the ballot.  It is a process that allows the citizen voters in Oklahoma to go around the legislature if they want.  That happened with SQ #640, which most legislators hate, but without it, Oklahoma citizens would be paying more taxes.
     Third, State Question #805 is not right for Oklahoma.  If approved by the voters and became law, it would end ‘enhancement sentencing.’  Enhancement sentencing is an option available to prosecutors in which they take into account a defendant’s criminal history and if a pattern of offenses are found, stricter punishments are sought.
     An example of the impact of SQ #805 would have if enhancement sentencing is eliminated is the driver of the pick-up that plowed into the Moore High School track team that killed three.  If #805 would have been law, the act would not have been considered a violent and the driver would have not faced as severe charges.    Michael Freeman, the father of Rachel Freeman who was killed in the incident, said habitual offenders shouldn't catch a break and that their punishment should grow with each conviction. “Are we going to focus on public safety, or are we going to focus on the prison population?” Freeman said.  That is an excellent question.
     “These are crimes like domestic violence, like child trafficking, like hate crimes, animal cruelty, repeat drunk drivers, drunk drivers who hit and hurt someone causing great bodily injuries. We should not ignore a person who continues to engage in habitual criminal behavior and not consider that when we seek sentencing,” Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks says.
     So when those nice young people seek you out to sign #805,politely decline and attempt to educate them on the ‘unintended consequences’ of letting habitual criminals get by with lesser sentences.  It means they are loose in our communities, not locked up where they belong.

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