There were four homicide victims of domestic violence in Woodward County between 1998 to 2017. There were 15 more in the surrounding and panhandle counties of Beaver, Dewey, Ellis, Harper and Texas, according to Domestic Violence Homicide in Oklahoma 2018 annual report.
A petition is going around to put State Question 805 on Oklahoma’s ballot. The measure would prohibit an increase in sentencing for individuals with former nonviolent felony convictions. District attorneys across the state are very concerned, primarily because in Oklahoma, domestic abuse is considered nonviolent unless it ends in death.
“I am very concerned about the potential impact of State Question 805, a so-called criminal justice reform effort seeking to reduce the options our judicial system has in dealing with those who cause our communities and families so much harm,” District Attorney Christopher M. Boring said. “I spend my time trying to keep families in Alfalfa, Dewey, Major, Woods, and Woodward counties safe from those who would do us harm. Doing so gives me a firsthand view at how changes on the state level affect our ability to do so.”
As a husband and father, Boring said he is so concerned that he is working with President of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association Jason Hicks to provide information to the public about how SQ 805 will affect important issues like domestic violence.
“Domestic abuse is a cycle. This cycle is repetitive and very difficult for victims to get out of,” Boring explained. “Keep in mind is that victims of domestic abuse don’t typically report. Almost 75-80% of incidents are not being reported. This is a crime that is underreported, and very difficult to prosecute. We do typically see repeat domestic abusers in this district… Many victims trapped in a violent relationship never leave.”
According to Boring, if SQ 805 becomes law, it will become even more difficult to encourage people to report domestic violence. This is a crime that typically gets worse each time it happens escalating sometimes even ending in death.
“If the victim reports, and we can remove the perpetrator from the victim, this increases the victim’s likelihood of survival,” Boring said. “My prosecutors make every effort to see that our victims are protected and the abuser is punished by prison time, counseling, and other forms of treatment.”
If SQ 805 becomes law, the punishment for a repeat domestic abuser will never be increased beyond 4 years. The defendants will likely serve less than 25 percent of the sentence ordered by a judge for so-called nonviolent crimes. Currently, because of the ability to consider past felony convictions for punishment purposes, the punishment can be enhanced for repeat offenders up to life in prison, according to Boring.
“The legal definition of a violent crime has been reserved for a handful of the most heinous crimes,” Boring said. “The definition is set forth in Title 57, Section 571 of the Oklahoma Statutes. These crimes range from Murder, Rape, Robbery to Child Abuse, Child Prostitution, even obtaining a signature by extortion.”
According to Boring, domestic abuse has been considered nonviolent since at least the 1980’s. While several additions have been made to the list of violent crimes through modifications of the statute through the years, domestic abuse continues to be considered nonviolent.
“Every day, advocates and district attorneys in this state are working tirelessly to protect our victims, and the proposed changes would be detrimental to these victims,” Boring said. “Thankfully we have a lot of community support and partners that help with victims of domestic abuse.
“The Northwest Domestic Crisis Services in Woodward offers an enormous amount of resources for victims in Northwest Oklahoma. They are advocates for these victims, and provide support, services, and encouragement. They serve victims from Alfalfa County to Cimarron County in the panhandle, and from the state line to Dewey County, and everyone in between. They truly cover Northwest Oklahoma. If someone is a victim of this terrible crime, they are just a phone call away and will be there for the victim’s needs.”
The proponents listed on the petition are Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR) Member and Senior Pastor, Divine Wisdom Worship Center Rev. Theodis R. Manning, Sr., Senior and OCJR Board of Directors Chairman Emeritus Gene Rainbolt, founder of BancFirst Corporation.
“Initiative petition 805 is a crucial next step Oklahomans can take toward dismantling the architecture of mass incarceration,” according to the ACLU. “If passed, initiative petition 805 will also significantly reduce the unchecked power of prosecutors to force people charged with crimes to accept harsh and excessive plea bargains that aren’t in the best interest of public safety and that have decimated communities of color throughout the state.”