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By Angela Marsee
State Question (SQ) 805 seeks to change the Oklahoma Constitution to prohibit the use of prior criminal convictions to increase the range of punishment for repeat offenders.
This prohibition against sentence enhancements applies to ALL felonies, except the 52 “violent crimes” as defined on January 1, 2020.
By enshrining SQ 805 in the Constitution, these prohibitions can only be changed with a subsequent vote of the people.
The Oklahoma District Attorneys Association voted unanimously to oppose SQ 805. As President of the Association, I want to ensure citizens understand what SQ 805 actually does.
SQ 805 is a terribly dangerous proposition that is marketed, using terms like “non-violent crimes” without explaining which crimes are included.
Habitual offenders who will benefit from SQ 805 include those committing serious crimes such as domestic violence (even if against a pregnant woman, by strangulation, or in the presence of a child); online predators who use a computer to solicit sex from a minor; animal cruelty; identity thieves; home burglars; repeat drunk drivers; vulnerable adult abusers, and many others.
If passed, SQ 805 would limit the penalties for these crimes to the same range of punishment for a first-time offender, forever, no matter how many prior felony convictions an offender has. SQ 805 constitutionally tips the scales of justice in favor of career criminals.
Currently, there is no transparency in sentencing. A 10 year prison sentence doesn’t mean 10 years. Offenders are eligible for parole after serving just 25% of their sentences. For example, under SQ 805 a repeat offender who committed domestic violence by strangulation could be released after just 9 months in prison.
SQ 805 applies the law, retroactively, and mandates the reduction of existing sentences for habitual offenders currently in prison to what the penalty would have been had they been a first-time offender.
Crime victims will no longer be able to rely on the sentence they were promised, and the prior decisions of judges and juries will be overturned.
Proponents of SQ 805 would have you believe that if SQ 805 is passed, prosecutors can just avoid the consequences of the law by finding a crime on the “violent crime” list with a higher penalty to charge instead, even though the facts, law, and ethical rules require otherwise.
Not all crimes could even have an alternate offense that could be charged. If the stated goal of SQ 805 is to reduce sentences for habitual offenders, why are proponents of SQ 805 the ones asserting that prosecutors can just over-charge someone with a violent crime that carries a higher sentence range to circumvent the consequences of the very constitutional amendment they are seeking? It is circular logic, at best.
When you hear claims from proponents of SQ 805, I would encourage you to take a step back. The stated goal of this group is to lower prison sentences for habitual criminals. They argue costs savings by reducing the number of people in prison, but they fail to address the costs to public safety. If you want to know what the true costs of crime looks like, just ask a crime victim.