Governor Kevin Stitt approved legislation reducing the felony sentences of individuals serving time in Oklahoma prisons for drug possession May 28.
Oklahoma voters approved the reduction of simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor with the passage of State Question 780 in 2016. Therefore, House Bill 1269 was designed to address drug offenders convicted of felonies that would now be considered misdemeanors before SQ 780 became effective on July 1, 2017.
Oklahoma District 48 Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, said the Oklahoma House of Representatives is proud of the work it has done on the bill and hopes that it is another “step in the right direction” for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma.
“When 780 was voted on by the people of Oklahoma their voice was clear they wanted criminal justice reform,” Townley said. “It is only right and fitting that the people who are already sitting in prisons for the same crimes that have now been classified as misdemeanors should have their criminal record reclassified.”
Townley said HB1269 will ideally open up job opportunities
for those who are struggling to find employment due to a felony conviction on their record.  
However, District 20 Attorney Craig Ladd said he considers HB1269 as an “ex post facto law,” which goes against the concept that offenders should be punished under the rules which were in place at the time the offense was committed and he believes the implementation may be “a logistical nightmare.”
“In my opinion, retroactive application of criminal laws should be reserved for only those laws which pertain to Constitutionally protected rights such as those found in the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” Ladd said.
In addition to reducing simple drug possession to a misdemeanor, SQ 780 also re-classified several property offenses, including forgery, false pawn declaration and concealing stolen property, to misdemeanors if the amount of money or property is valued at less than $1,000.
However, Ladd said the formal pleadings which alleged a person was guilty of such offenses formerly did not specify whether the money or property was valued at more than $1,000. Therefore, there might not be sufficient information for a judge to determine which defendants are entitled to relief, Ladd said.
Another issue Ladd said he is concerned about is that of defendants who previously received harsher sentences due to prior convictions for felony offenses and who could have their records cleared under HB 1269.
For example, an individual charged with the felony offense of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in Oklahoma would face up to 10 years in prison, Ladd said. However, that person would have an enhanced punishment of 20 years to life in prison if they had two or more prior felony convictions.
“What happens if such a defendant uses this new proposed legislation to expunge the two prior conditions which had been used for sentence enhancement at his trial?” Ladd said. “Would we be expected to modify his sentence down to a maximum of 10 years?”
Townley said the House intends to continue working on more criminal justice reform like HB 1269 in its next session.
“We still have a long way to go, but step by step we are getting there,” Townley said.