GUEST EDITORIAL: S.Q. 805: Do you know what you are voting on?

Whitley Pierson

State Question 805 is the Criminal History in Sentencing and Sentence Modification Initiative. This question is on the Nov. 3 ballot as an initiated constitutional amendment. This question's goal is to prohibit using a person's past nonviolent felony convictions to impose a more significant sentence on a person convicted of a nonviolent felony.

It also will provide for sentence modifications for eligible individuals serving or set to serve sentences enhanced based on past felony convictions. Supporters want to reduce the prison population to reduce the number of tax dollars required to house inmates, increase the work population, and prevent leaving families in poverty longer. While this can sound proactive, there are a few facts to keep in mind before voting “yes."

First, let’s discuss what this could mean for domestic violence victims. While some charges were moved to the list of violent crimes in Oklahoma by House Bill 3251, there is much to be done to protect victims. Voting "yes" on SQ 805 would set back the range of punishment for these offenses drastically. As an advocacy agency, we [at Help In Crisis] know the likelihood for these perpetrators to re-offend is very high. According to the University of the Fraser Valley Center for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research, nearly two-thirds of domestic violence perpetrators re-offended within six months of the previous offense, with slightly more than one-third being the same victim occurring within three months. Prohibiting the prosecutor's ability to use past criminal activity to enhance future charges' sentencing puts victims more at risk.

Secondly, at this time, the district attorney can seek longer sentences for individuals charged with a crime within 10 years after completing a sentence for a prior felony conviction. If SQ 805 is passed, a person convicted of domestic violence would be limited to a penalty of up to four years regardless of past criminal history or how many victims were abused. SQ 805 will treat a repeat offender like a first-time offender with each continued offense. Being able to prove a pattern of domestic violence can be crucial to getting justice for victims involved in these horrible crimes.

Finally, perpetrators do not randomly commit violent crimes (murder or strangulation); they gradually increase to that point. What would be considered a "nonviolent" pattern can quickly become severe, and not being able to use past offenses can put future victims in danger. Many victims are murdered because their abusers were released from jail or because they were not adequately held accountable. If we eliminate enhanced sentencing, we make way for more crimes to be committed.

The Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault stated: "When abusers are not held accountable, the violence escalates, and that is when they end up killing someone. In Oklahoma, we don't hold offenders accountable already, but whatever was there, SQ 805 will remove that, making it worse." Here at Help in Crisis, we stand with the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault by encouraging you to vote “no” on SQ 805. Stand up for the victims in your community.

Whitley Pierson is a domestic violence/sexual assault advocate for Help In Crisis in Tahlequah.

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