A bill that would add four domestic violence offenses to the state’s list of violent crimes is headed for Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk, and indications are he will sign it.
If he does, the crimes will be the only domestic abuse charges to join 51 other offenses on a statutory list that would mean convicted offenders could serve more time and would receive more scrutiny when they’re up for parole. The crimes likely to be added are domestic abuse by strangulation, domestic assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and domestic assault and battery with a deadly weapon.
Oklahoma is one of at least 26 states that treat domestic violence as a nonviolent offense.
Candida Manion, executive director of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, which advocated for the bill, said the move is necessary to hold abusers accountable and to fight antiquated perceptions that domestic abuse is a private matter that should be dealt with at home, not in the courts. Victim advocates and prosecutors have pushed to add domestic violence charges to the list of violent crimes for years.
“The message is that we do take this seriously,” Manion said. “This is a big deal because we can affect real change in the criminal justice system.”
A representative from the governor’s office said Stitt is supportive of the bill and expected to sign it into law.
Despite the apparent victory, supporters said more is needed to protect victims and lower the state’s high rates of domestic abuse. Manion said advocates are concerned that a criminal justice reform ballot question would blunt the effects of making domestic abuse a violent crime. Criminal justice reform advocates said they support adding domestic violence to the violent-crime list, but don’t agree it would prevent abusers from being held accountable.
‘We need to help them’
Tulsa mother Sherea Carter endured years of emotional and physical abuse by her ex-boyfriend. The scariest incident, Carter said, was in November 2018, when he strangled her while she was holding their 5-week-old daughter.
Carter said the rage in his eyes was terrifying, but even more frightening was the realization that “I have a child here that I’m holding and if I drop this child, it could be detrimental to her health or even her life.”
Carter reported the incident to police in January and eventually got a victim protective order, but no charges were filed. She said police told her she had waited too long to report the incident.
Carter called HB 3251 “a good start” but more jail time for abusers isn’t enough to stop the violence.
Carter’s ex-boyfriend has served time for other charges, but without mental health services, treatment programs and reintegration assistance, he will likely never change, she said.
“He’s just serving time and going back to it,” Carter said. “We need to help them, not just lock them up.”
Effects of State Question
Proposed State Question 805, backed by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, is a constitutional amendment aimed at reducing the state’s high incarceration rate, which has led to overcrowded prisons. But the measure would also remove a tool that prosecutors and advocates say is necessary to hold abusers accountable.
Currently, repeat offenders can receive longer sentences – including life in prison in some cases – if they have prior domestic abuse or felony convictions. SQ 805 would remove those sentence enhancements for nonviolent offenders and those convicted of domestic abuse after the new law goes into effect.
The state question defines violent offenses as only those listed in the state statute on Jan. 1, 2020. That means under SQ 805, sentence enhancement would be permitted for other violent crimes, but not for domestic violence. That would prevent tougher maximum sentences from being imposed for repeat abusers.