EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cyntoia Brown & the "51-To-Life" Project: Oklahoma

This is the thirty-seventh in a series of posts on the "51-To-Life" Project. In Tennessee, if a juvenile is convicted of first-degree murder, there are two sentencing options: (1) life without the possibility of parole; or (2) life with the possibility of parole, with that possibility only existing after the juvenile has been incarcerated for 51 years. In this post, I will explain why Oklahoma treats juvenile homicide offenders better than Tennessee.  

Oklahoma Statutes Annotated Section 21-701.9A states that

A person who is convicted of or pleads guilty or nolo contendere to murder in the first degree shall be punished by death, by imprisonment for life without parole or by imprisonment for life. A person who is convicted of or pleads guilty or nolo contendere to murder in the first degree, as described in subsection E of Section 701.7 of this title, shall not be entitled to or afforded the benefit of deferment of the sentence.

In Anderson v. State, 130 P.3d 273 (Okla.Crim.App. 2006),

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board currently, and for the past several years, has provided that parole for any sentence over 45 years, including a life sentence, is calculated based upon a sentence of 45 years. In keeping with our stated policy of instructing the jury fully on the law, using clear and plain language, we hold that a jury instruction on the 85% Rule in cases such as Anderson's should include some reference to this policy (or any successor policy). In summary, we conclude that, if a defendant is sentenced to a term of imprisonment, he will be required to serve at least eighty-five percent (85%) of this sentence within the Department of Corrections.

Therefore, Oklahoma courts can give juvenile homicide offenders a sentence of life without parole or a life sentence, which is treated as 45 years. In the latter scenario, the juvenile homicide offender would be eligible for parole after serving 85% of her sentence, or 38.25 years. As a result, Oklahoma treats juvenile homicide offenders better than Tennessee.



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