Spottedcrow case highlights Oklahoma justice system’s flaws (Capitol Update)

It was reported last week that Patricia Spottedcrow, who had been sentenced to a 12-year prison sentence over a decade ago for selling $31 worth of marijuana, was back in jail on a bench warrant because she owed more than $1,100 in unpaid court costs. Spottedcrow, who was 25 at the time of sentencing, had four children, all under 10. She had no high school education and no previous arrests. Her mother was also charged in the case and received a 30-year suspended sentence so she could care for the children as guardian.
 
News reports indicated the original 12-year sentence by the judge was entered without recommendation from the district attorney. Lawyers call this a “blind plea.” After her story garnered national attention in 2011 as part of a study of Oklahoma women in prison, Spottedcrow’s sentence was reduced by a different judge to 8 years with 4 years suspended. She was paroled in November 2012.
 
On the face of it, this case reveals flaws in our criminal justice system in Oklahoma that help make us the number one incarcerator in the world. For starters, the penalty for delivery of even the small amount of marijuana in 2010 was two years to life. The woman literally had no options but to throw herself on the mercy of the district attorney or the court. Reports don’t indicate what the district attorney had offered. Had the woman gone to a jury trial, juries in Oklahoma are not allowed to hear evidence of mitigating circumstances in the case or to recommend probationary sentences. At a jury trial in Oklahoma, unlike in most other states, it’s prison or nothing.
 
The legislature in 2018 changed the maximum penalty for delivery of marijuana to five years, but it’s likely many are in prison – out of sight and out of mind – under the old sentencing law. There are many other criminal statutes in Oklahoma with a wide range of punishment that leaves broad discretion to individual prosecutors or judges, usually prosecutors. And parenthetically, what purpose could be served by sentencing the mother/grandmother to a 30-year suspended sentence?
 
Another system flaw is that nearly a decade after the conviction the state is arresting this woman on a warrant for failure to pay court costs. A 2017 article in the Tulsa World reported Spottedcrow was still dealing with several mental health diagnoses, a lack of job opportunities, few housing choices, stress of a growing family and notoriety of her case while living in a small town.
 
Were it not for the publicity in her case, she would likely be sitting in jail like thousands of others for failure to pay court costs. At some point it would seem to be of no benefit to the state or to offenders to keep them in debt under threat of arrest and jail.   

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

2 thoughts on “Spottedcrow case highlights Oklahoma justice system’s flaws (Capitol Update)

  1. My son is in the same boat with thousands of other Oklahomans caught in the opioid crisis. Mounting fines and fees, lawyers cost, and a Mental Health Court system that failed has caused him to flee this state to a place that actually treats the addicted and mentally ill as patients, not criminals.

  2. My son , a first time, low level, non violent offender was sentenced in California court to 7 years for something he did 26 years ago. A time when his company went out of business,he was laid off, no income..turned to his home computer for solace looking at porn then out of curiosity child porn.He became employed,stupidly put garbage on hard drive -never looked at them again as documented in court by police investigator and technoligy experts. During those years he was a wonderful husband,father, and son but most importantly he devoted his time to his grandsons whose Army PTSD father abandoned them. He encouraged them to get involved into sports his favorite being golf, they walked to the parks with their dogs,limited their time on computers to insure they would not lose the art of communication, helped them with homework, projects at home, responsibilities, respect, but since his harsh sentence they have become addicted to computers and totally indifferent to people. They need their grandfather desperately. I appealed to BPOP not only is he needed home but our beautiful once happy family has been fractured. His wife has had 3 breakdowns, she lost her mother April.2017, her retired full Colonel father Dec.2018, her grandchild due to an accident in 2012, their oldest child and now myself, an 88 year old disabled mother in declining health. I don’t know why I am alive, but I exist day after day, asking God to let me live for the day he is released. BPOP has rules that if a family member is sick or dying, they cannot send the inmate more than 500 miles from their home. My son is on the East Coast and I on the West. I cannot see or visit him Make no mistake, once “they” get you, your life is destroyed. You are never free. Even though he has never touched, molested,raped another person he falls in the same category as a rapist thus he was directed to file as a “sex offender, a felon, he’ll come home in shackles, he’ll never be able to get a job, join social clubs, he’ll be limited to home confinement, Controlled by parole officers, attend therapy for the rest of his life.
    While our American youth protest and cry out for illegal imigrant children, do they have any idea or care what America’s children are suffering, doing without a parent, reduced to poverty levels and ostracized from humanity because their parent is incarcerated in our over populated prisons? Why aren’t the Clintons in prison? These great politicians, our Justice dept, our judges and the like are too busy worrying about their greedy Benefits, pensions, retiring in luxury practicing “Hard on Crime” for political VOTES. They are above the law make no mistake about that. Their laws do not apply to them but do apply to America’s hard working people that support the politicians rich,lavish lives. NO JUDGE SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO ISSUE SENTENCING FIRST TIME OFFENDERS WITHOUT HAVING SPENT 2 MONTHS IN PRISON EXPERIENCING PRISON LIFE THEMSELVES. THEY HAVE NO IDEA…..Where is the great American compassion, understanding and generosity…? Actually Our country is not so great when it comes to their own countrymen. Sad but true.

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