One of the most pernicious effects of drug addiction is that it often becomes a “gateway” crime: not only does possession or distribution of controlled substances put people on to a collision course with law enforcement, but along the way they become more likely to be accused of committing other crimes. These can range from misdemeanor petty theft through felony grand larceny; the possibility of violent crime charges arising in connection with drug-related offenses is another possibility.
For many non-violent drug crime offenders, a common way of getting into spill-over trouble with other laws comes from accusations of property crimes, most notably theft. Fueling a drug habit too often leads to personal financial collapse, which in turn leads many users to seek other ways to come up with the money. Stories abound of metal thieves who will strip empty houses of their wiring, remove metal guardrails from bridges and overpasses. and even abscond with manhole covers from the streets. What can be stolen and “fenced” for money is limited only be the imagination: for example, four of every five people accused of cattle rustling in Oklahoma have some connection with illegal drugs.
Do tougher drug laws really work?
Oklahoma’s current philosophy toward fighting drug crimes is to rely on some of the country’s toughest illegal drug laws, aggressive prosecution, and burgeoning populations in its county jails and state prisons. This last effect of the get-tough crime policy has led both state legislators, private organizations and individual citizens to call for a reassessment or even substantial reform of how drug crimes are classified and what penalties should be imposed on those convicted.
The movement to reform drug laws includes two basic paths: reducing the severity of the laws, and promoting alternatives to prison sentencing.
- Lessening the severity of drug law crimes. Efforts are underway to place two reform measures – State Questions 780 and 781 – before voters, possibly in the election this November. Question 780 would, if it appears on the ballot and passes, convert some non-violent drug and property-related felony charges to misdemeanors; it would also encourage treatment outside of the prison system. Question 781 would take monies saved by using community-based treatment instead of incarceration and allocate those savings into funding more such treatment efforts.
- Sentencing reform. Aside from the promotion of community treatment centers for drug offenders, another sentencing alternative – this one being proposed in the state House of Representatives – would substitute community service for jail time for non-violent misdemeanor offenders at the county level.
Will drug law reforms really work?
Those favoring drug law changes see two potential benefits: reducing overcrowding in Oklahoma jails and prisons (currently at 22 percent over capacity) by making it easier to change felonies to misdemeanors and to divert misdemeanor convictions out of the jails, and making it easier for those convicted of drug crimes (or other crimes connected with illegal drugs) to avoid falling back into bad habits by making it easier for them to reintegrate into society without a prison record.
Regardless of how effective drug law reforms might be, they are not aimed at legalization. Drug possession and its “handmaiden” crimes like property theft will remain on the books, and that means that defense attorneys are not relieved of their obligation to remain on top of the latest changes and trends to state laws – and to use this awareness to secure the best possible outcome for their clients, whether that be acquittal or staying out of prison.
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.