Last year, District Attorney Craig Ladd campaigned heavily against State Questions 780 and 781, which contained legislation to raise the threshold for possession of controlled substances to be classified as a felony.
The Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a group of community leaders led by former House Speaker Kris Steele intent on reducing prison population and saving money, asserted that substantial amounts of money could be saved and invested elsewhere.
By charging drug possessors with a misdemeanor in lieu of a felony, money could go to other counties for improvement toward substance abuse and mental health facilities.
The SQs passed last November, receiving 58 percent and 56 percent of the vote respectively. But Ladd’s confidence in the trade-off from a higher threshold for lower prison populations doesn’t match that of Oklahomans who supported it.
“I wish it could be undone. I campaigned strongly against it,” Ladd said. “I’m very proud that the policies were soundly defeated in my five-county district. People understand the huge effect it will have.”
Since SQs 780 and 781 went into effect on July 1, there have been 64 cases for possession of meth or cocaine filed as misdemeanors that would have been filed as felonies prior to 780 and 781, according to the Carter County Court Clerk’s office.
Prior to the State Questions’ passing, Ladd said he and law enforcement officals could better work these instances, comparable to social workers connecting those who abuse drugs to beneficial resources.
Whenever a suspect was charged with a felony under former legislation, they were presented with two options: potential prison time, or completion of a regimen of rehabilitation courses.
“It was a good motivator for them,” Ladd said. “It’s more of a challenge now. The prison was a last resort for people who possess.”
Crime in Ardmore has seen a large reduction in the past three years. In June 2014, there were 269 uniform crime reports in the city of Ardmore. In June 2017, there were 147 reports.
SQs 780 and 781 also raises the dollar amount for property crimes considered either a misdemeanor or felony. With more wiggle room for repeat offenders who are routinely charged, Ladd and company have less options for addressing drug abusers.
“It was a great tool to catch thieves. The threshold is now $1,000. So now you can hit up to $950 and just be charged with a misdemeanor,” he said. “It’s like I have a hand tied behind my back.”