State Criminal Code Needs Revamping

Article excerpt

In 1976, Sen. Darryl Roberts, D-Ardmore, prosecuted a man for damaging a prison commode. He received a five-year sentence. The same day a jury found four Ardmore high school students guilty of murdering a high school classmate by shooting him in the chest. They received only four-year sentences.

For Roberts this is just one instance which illustrates the immedate need to revamp Oklahoma's criminal code with uniform sentencing guidelines for felony offenses and embezzlement as embodied in Senate Bill 132.

Although the bill did not pass the Senate Criminal Jurisprudence Committee during this session of the Oklahoma Legislature, Roberts hopes to take action on it next session.

"I didn't expect it to pass this session, but filed it so it could be a focal point to attract attention," he said. Roberts introduced the bill in 1987.

"We need simplicity, uniformity and clarity for citizens and those who must prosecute," he said.

In pouring over Oklahoma's criminal code, Roberts discovered that embezzlement from the state embalmer's office carries a maximum sentence of 50 years compared to a maximum of 20 years for child abuse.

"Back in the 1930s when the legislation was passed, 50 years was the largest sentence other than life," he said.

The criminal code's "willy nilly" lack of uniformity stems from the uneven development of law since it was established in 1910, Roberts said.

"Agricultural crimes such as bribery, the movement of livestock, and falsifying meat inspection reports are now taken care of with rules and regulations in the Agriculture Department," he said.

In creating uniform sentencing, the law should evaluate like punishment for like crimes, he said.

"When looking at the prison population you can find someone from the Panhandle in jail for 50 years while someone from southeastern Oklahoma stays only three years for the same crime and the same circumstance," he said.

Increasing penalties is not the solution, he said.

"The district attorney has gotten more convictions since the minimum sentence for rape was reduced," he said. The minimum sentence is now five years, compared to 15 years in the 1970s, he said.

Ninety-nine-year sentences are one of the biggest sources of frustration for Oklahomans, Roberts said. "We need to provide for more certainty," he said.

"For punishment to be effective, it must be swift, certain and sure. …