Now that drug possession and property crimes under $500 are misdemeanors instead of felonies, many prison inmates may be eligible for resentencing.
In 2016, state voters approved a measure that reduced most drug possession offenses to misdemeanors and doubled the felony threshold for property crimes. Now that Governor Kevin Stitt has signed enabling legislation, that measure goes into effect.
Several hundred inmates may be eligible for resentencing in an accelerated process which begins on November 1. Officials say that felony drug possession matters will be heard first, followed by property crimes which are now misdemeanors. The final group will be felons who have other pending or disposed cases. These individuals may get some relief, but that relief may be limited.
Steven Bickley, executive director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, says about a fifth of the roughly 5,000 felony drug possession inmates may be eligible for immediate sentence reductions.
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Approaching Resentencing Matters
Post-trial hearings regarding the criminal sentence are not uncommon. A few years ago, the Supreme Court declared that mandatory LWOP (Life Without Parole) sentences were unconstitutional, if the defendant was a minor. But judges had a great deal of discretion. Some of these resentenced defendants went home, and others returned to their prison cells.
Probation hearings, such as revocations and motions for early discharge, are quite common as well. In fact, if the probation term is at least a year, the defendant will probably face at least one such hearing.
These proceedings require a special touch. Some Ponca City criminal defense lawyers try to revive mitigating circumstances which were brought up at the trial. But at this point, the trial is over. Only the technical legal changes and the defendant’s subsequent conduct are relevant. Other attorneys rely on “give the poor guy a break” equitable arguments. Kay County jurists are not made of stone, but such approaches usually do not resonate with the judge.
Drug Possession Defenses
An even better approach to resentencing is to bypass the issue altogether with an aggressive defense at trial.
In particular, drug possession cases have a number of defenses. For example, the prosecutor must establish that the substance was illegal. Unscientific “field tests” usually do not suffice. Recently, a man was arrested for heroin possession. Later scientific tests established that the substance was Tide laundry detergent. In another case, officers arrested a man for possessing crack cocaine. That substance turned out to be bird poop.
There are procedural defenses as well. The substance is not admissible in court unless officers had a search warrant or a limited search warrant exception applied.
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Property Crime Defenses
Theft, embezzlement, and other property crimes are defensible as well. To maximize these defenses, most Ponca City criminal defense lawyers delay the case as long as possible.
These cases require complaining witnesses. Over time, their memories fade. At the time of trial, if the witness has no independent recollection of the event, the witness is not competent to testify. Their interest in the case fades as well. That is especially true if, as is normally the case, officers arrested the defendant before anything was actually stolen.
Finally, many witnesses relocate outside the court’s subpoena power, which is usually limited to 150 miles from the courthouse.
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Contact a Dedicated Lawyer
Some state prison inmates may get early Christmas gifts this year. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Ponca City, contact BDIW Law. We routinely handle matters in Kay County and nearby jurisdictions.
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