Do Drug Penalties Vary by County in Oklahoma?
There are 77 counties in Oklahoma, and people convicted of drug crimes may receive varying penalties depending on the county in which they are convicted. It may be surprising to you that state laws about drugs, which supposedly apply to all people in the state, could have uneven application. The reasons for the varying penalties range from geographical to monetary.
Geography Alters Charges and Sentences
In response to the new law reclassifying drug possession as a misdemeanor, Oklahoma legislators passed another law that makes it a felony to possess drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. (63 O.S. § 2-402.) Rather than receiving the reduced misdemeanor penalties, people convicted of this crime will face up to five years in prison or more.
In some counties in Oklahoma, there are not that many schools, or the schools are not very close together. In populous Tulsa County, about 21 percent of residents live within 1,000 feet of a school. As a result, there is a much higher likelihood of receiving a felony charge for drug possession there than in other counties. With a felony conviction comes more prison time and more fines, not to mention the stigma of having a felony record.
County Jail vs. State Prison
Oklahomans convicted of misdemeanors go to county jails to serve their time, while those convicted of felonies go to state prisons. Many counties have overcrowded county jails, which will only become more crowded with the reclassification of possession as a misdemeanor. In the areas with more crowded jails, prosecutors may be reluctant to reduce felonies to misdemeanors in plea bargains because of the overcrowding. Counties will end up paying more for housing inmates, when previously those costs were covered by the state prison system.
Money Affects Sentencing
Different counties have different funding available for drug treatment and intervention programs that help people convicted of possession or other drug crimes. For example, Tulsa County has a privately funded Women in Recovery program that has helped reduce the rates of female incarceration. Oklahoma County does not have this program, and incarceration rates have risen there. Without available and funded recovery programs, judges cannot sentence people to attend those programs. Some counties simply do not have the money or resources to allow people to avoid jail or receive reduced sentences if they go to treatment.
As a result of these factors and more, the sentence you receive for drug crimes in one Oklahoma county could be completely different from what you receive in another county, for exactly the same crime.
Have you been charged with a drug crime in Oklahoma and don’t know where to turn? Seek out the attorney who knows the system. Clint Patterson, Esq., of Patterson Law Firm, a former Tulsa prosecutor now using his trial experience and knowledge of the court system to defend Oklahomans, has the experience and the insight to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case. To schedule a case evaluation, visit Patterson Law Firm online or call Clint’s office at (918) 550-9175.