Excessive Sentencing Project - Oklahoma

Policies and rulings on lengthy imprisonment terms in Oklahoma.

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  • Oklahoma has a habitual offender statute that gives prosecutors leeway to determine against which defendants they will seek enhanced sentences.
State Constitution

Art. 2, §9: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Sentencing Statutes

Habitual Offender statute: Oklahoma allows for the enhancement of an offender’s sentence if he is found to have been previously convicted as an adult of a felony within 10 years of the instant offense. Prosecutors are allowed to exercise their discretion in determining who they will seek to punish as habitual offenders. 21 Okl.St.Ann. §51.1.  

Delayed Sentencing Program for Young Adults: The state allows courts to defer sentences for “young adults” (this term is left undefined) until up to a year after a plea of guilty or conviction. During that time the court may place the offender on probation or commit the offender to the Department of Corrections, which is charged with completing a specialized plan for the youth (ranging from education to counseling) and the circumstances under which the plan could best be completed—including “boot camp, substance abuse treatment, and vocational or educational placement.” Okla. Stat. tit. 22, §996.3. After completion of the program, the court has the authority to dismiss the charges against the offender, defer judgment, suspend the sentence, or sentence the offender to a regular term.

Case Law

General 

The habitual offender statute has sustained a number of constitutional challenges. Butler v. State, 645 P.2d 1030 (Okla.Crim.App. 1982)(vagueness); Jump v. Page, 437 P.2d 283 (1968)(due process; double jeopardy); Taylor v. State, 423 P.2d 473 (Okla.Crim.App. 1967)(equal protection).

Courts give great deference to the legislature in setting penalties for criminal offenses. King v. State,  130 P.2d 105,108 (Okla.Crim.App. 1942) .

Sentence of six months in jail for direct contempt was excessive in light of the facts and circumstances presented in case in which defendant told judge she would “get him” and walked out of courtroom during proceedings. Ingram v. State, 650 P.2d 888, 892 (Okla. Crim. App. 1982).

Proportionality 

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To evaluate whether a punishment is grossly disproportionate, the court compares the gravity of the offense to the harshness of the penalty; the fact that the state may be the only in the country that imposes a life without parole sentence for certain offenses does not automatically render the punishment grossly disproportionate. Dodd v. State, 879 P.2d 822, 827 (Okla. Crim. App. 1994)(upholding life sentence without parole for defendant convicted of conspiracy to traffic 50 pounds of marijuana; defendant had four prior felony drug convictions).

When a sentence is within statutory limits, it will not be modified unless it is so excessive in light of the facts and circumstances that it shocks the conscience. Maxwell v. State, 775 P.2d 818, 820 (Okla. Crim. App. 1989)(upholding life sentence for attempted kidnapping conviction when defendant had previously been convicted of two felonies).

Severe Sentences 

Court upheld a cumulative sentence of more than 195 years in prison for convictions on multiple counts of methamphetamine distribution and sale; sentence was enhanced due to the defendant’s status as having been on probation as part of a conditional discharge on a prior felony. The trial judge ordered the sentences be served consecutively. Watts v. State, 197 P.3d 1094 (Okla. Crim. App. 2008).