Uni­for­mity in drug dis­tri­bu­tion laws sought

Pros­e­cu­tors say they are not over­charg­ing sus­pects in crimes of drug deal­ing

Tulsa World - - Front Page - By Darla Slipke

A bi­par­ti­san coali­tion of com­mu­nity lead­ers wants law­mak­ers to specif­i­cally de­fine the crime of drug pos­ses­sion with in­tent to dis­trib­ute to en­sure the charge is used con­sis­tently across the state.

“We are seek­ing to es­tab­lish a stan­dard def­i­ni­tion of what con­sti­tutes pos­ses­sion with in­tent to dis­trib­ute so that we can ac­cu­rately en­sure that in­di­vid­u­als who bat­tle ad­dic­tion aren't be­ing over­charged, while peo­ple who are truly caus­ing prob­lems in our com­mu­ni­ties by dis­tribut­ing drugs are be­ing charged ap­pro­pri­ately,” said Kris Steele,

ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ok­la­homans for Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Re­form.

Pro­posed leg­is­la­tion backed by the group would re­quire that three of seven cri­te­ria be present for a per­son to be charged with pos­ses­sion with in­tent to dis­trib­ute. The cri­te­ria would in­clude fac­tors such as pos­sess­ing means to weigh the sub­stance, a record in­di­cat­ing a drug trans­ac­tion or more than $500 cash. A per­son in pos­ses­sion of more than four grams of a sched­ule I or sched­ule II con­trolled sub­stance other than mar­i­juana also could be charged with pos­ses­sion with in­tent to dis­trib­ute.

It's one of 14 re­form mea­sures the coali­tion is sup­port­ing this leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

“A stan­dard def­i­ni­tion pro­vides ac­count­abil­ity, it im­proves trans­parency and it is con­sid­ered a best prac­tice,” Steele said.

Prison ad­mis­sions for pos­ses­sion with in­tent to dis­trib­ute in­creased 20 per­cent statewide dur­ing the 2018 fis­cal year, and much of that growth came from just a hand­ful of dis­trict at­tor­ney ju­ris­dic­tions, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the coali­tion and a na­tional po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion called FWD. us.

Dis­trict at­tor­neys said they con­sider a va­ri­ety of fac­tors when de­ter­min­ing whether to charge some­one with pos­ses­sion with in­tent to dis­trib­ute and re­jected the no­tion that they would over­charge the crime.

“That's com­pletely wrong,” said Max Cook, dis­trict at­tor­ney for Creek and Ok­fus­kee coun­ties. “We're not go­ing to trump up charges on any­one.”

About 70 per­cent of the growth in the state's prison ad­mis­sions for pos­ses­sion with in­tent to dis­trib­ute came from six of the state's 27 dis­trict at­tor­ney ju­ris­dic­tions, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Those dis­tricts are: Dis­trict 21 (Cleve­land, Garvin and McClain coun­ties), Dis­trict 20 (Carter, John­ston, Love, Mar­shall and Mur­ray), Dis­trict 1 (Beaver, Ci­mar­ron, Harper and Texas), Dis­trict 5 (Co­manche and Cot­ton), Dis­trict 9 (Lo­gan and Payne) and Dis­trict 24 (Creek and Ok­fus­kee).

Dis­trict at­tor­neys from two of those ju­ris­dic­tions said they've no­ticed an in­crease in the preva­lence of metham­phetamine in their dis­tricts since the pas­sage of State Ques­tion 780, which made sim­ple drug pos­ses­sion a mis­de­meanor.

Dis­trict At­tor­ney Craig Ladd wrote in an email that metham­phetamine abuse has risen to “an epi­demic level” in Dis­trict 20, which en­com­passes five coun­ties in south-cen­tral Ok­la­homa. Dis­trict At­tor­ney Mike Bor­ing said in a state­ment that Dis­trict 1, which en­com­passes the Ok­la­homa Pan­han­dle, has seen an in­crease in the dis­tri­bu­tion of meth to stu­dents.

Dis­trict 21 ac­counted for about 20 per­cent of the statewide growth, the most of any dis­trict, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. The num­ber of peo­ple from the dis­trict who went to prison for pos­ses­sion with in­tent to dis­trib­ute more than dou­bled from 24 to 55 dur­ing fis­cal year 2018, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pro­vided by Ok­la­homans for Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Re­form.

Dis­trict At­tor­ney Greg Mash­burn said there's no con­certed ef­fort on his of­fice's part to do any­thing dif­fer­ently than they al­ways have.

“From year to year, that num­ber's go­ing to go up and down,” Mash­burn said. “I guess what they're getting at is some­how ac­cus­ing Dis­trict 21 of all of a sud­den de­cid­ing to file more pos­ses­sion with in­tent charges, and I mean that's ridicu­lous be­cause we only file the charges that peo­ple com­mit.”

He said his dis­trict has “great al­ter­na­tive sen­tenc­ing pro­grams,” and his of­fice only sends peo­ple to prison “when that's the only op­tion left on the ta­ble” af­ter eval­u­at­ing what's best for pub­lic safety. He said he is one cog in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and if he was mak­ing poor choices, those de­ci­sions would be vet­ted through judges and ju­ries.

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