We have posted earlier on proposals to reduce prison overcrowding in Oklahoma through reforms to the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Such proposals are not the only avenue by which the problem of too many state prison inmates — and the considerable costs associated with holding many of these people in county jails due to a lack of prison space — is being addressed. The state legislature, with the support of the governor, is taking action to amend Oklahoma’s laws governing property crimes in a way that will make it less likely for a person to be charged with a property crime-related felony.

The current version of the law, which has been in effect since 2002, makes it a felony (grand larceny) to be convicted of theft of property with a value of $500 or more. The new law, which would become effective at the beginning of November of this year, would double the minimum dollar threshold for grand larceny to $1,000. Prosecution for property theft valued at less than that sum would be a misdemeanor (petit larceny).

If signed into law by Governor Fallin, the changes to the law would work to alleviate state prison overcrowding by cutting back on the intake of convicted felons. A side-effect of the law could be to put more overpopulation pressure on county jails, because the changes would not necessarily reduce the number of people being charged with property crimes but only to reclassify more crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies. The current ad hoc system of county jails holding state prisoners until space becomes available could become a more formal, and permanent arrangement.

Some of the new bill’s specific changes to the state’s property crime law include:

● Embezzlement: The bill increases the threshold for a felony conviction from $500 to $1000 or more.

● Using a bad check to rent or lease a vehicle: If the amount of the bogus check is less than $1000, this offense is now treated as a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

● Identity theft: Identity theft is generally a felony in Oklahoma, but the proposed law would create an exception to this rule by making the selling one’s own identity for an illegal purpose a misdemeanor.

The text of the bill also features a change in sentencing for felony-level crimes, replacing the existing requirement for incarceration in a state penitentiary to being made “subject to the Department of Corrections.“ This provision would help to deal with state prison overcrowding by allowing the Department of Corrections some flexibility to assign punishment for felonies other than an automatic prison sentence.

The pressure being exerted by the state’s governor, Mary Fallin, as well as other interested groups to undertake at least a partial rollback of some criminal laws involving non-violent offenses is clearly producing results in the state legislature, but no matter how the law is written the most effective defense against a prosecution for any crime – violent or nonviolent, misdemeanor or felony – remains experienced criminal defense lawyers who not only understands the meaning of the law not only as it is now, but is also to see how it is evolving in the state legislature and what the changes could mean to clients. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, contact the Hunsucker Legal Group at 405-231-5600 for a free consultation.