By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter –
This story first appeared online on Dec 16, 2020.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Defendants in Oklahoma pay many fines, costs and fees to state, county and city courts, regardless of whether or not they can afford them, according to a press release from the OCU School of Law.
“Why does the legal system continue to trap poor people in the court system with no way out, and why are defendants asked to finance state agencies and programs that are not part of the crime they committed,” the release asks.
These questions will be examined at the Oklahoma Forward: The Price of Punishment, the second seminar sponsored by the Oklahoma City University Law School Center for Criminal Justice. The event will be held in a virtual webinar on Friday, January 22, 2021. The conference is open to the public.
The release stated that generally, a misdemeanor conviction is punishable by less than one year in a county jail. In Oklahoma, a misdemeanor conviction is subject to a year in the county jail and a maximum fine of $500.
However, OCU Law School reports that the cost of being convicted of a misdemeanor in Oklahoma increases drastically when the costs and fees charged to a defendant are considered.
The average cost to a misdemeanor drug defendant in Oklahoma is $850, in addition to any fine assessed, bringing the cost to at least $1,350, the press release states.
OCU Law states that it is estimated that 70 percent of this criminal debt goes unpaid each year because poor people simply do not have the money, leaving them caught up in a web of debt for years to come and potential warrant arrests for failure to pay fines and costs.
The release adds that “historically, as budget gaps or added unfunded agency programs burdened the state, it shifted more court costs and fees to defendants to avoid appropriating tax dollars.”
These fees cover almost every part of the criminal justice process and include anything from court-appointed attorney fees, court clerk fees, late fees, installment fees, and supervision fees to jury fees and various other kinds of administration fees, OCU Law says.
The conference, Oklahoma Forward: The Price of Punishment, will focus on how excessive fines and costs assessments keep poor people trapped in the criminal justice system and cause a lifetime of problems when they are unable to pay the fines and costs assessed against them.
This year’s seminar also will focus on the reform needed to change the impact of assessing fines and costs in sentencing, particularly in misdemeanor crimes.
During the event, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Messenger, a columnist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, will deliver the keynote address.
His most recent book “Profit and Punishment: How America Criminalizes the Poor in the Name of Poverty,” is scheduled to be released sometime in late 2021.
The first 50 attendees to register will receive a free copy of “Punishment Without Crime: How our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal,” by Harvard Professor Alexandra Natapoff.
The seminar is sponsored by the Oklahoma City University School of Law Center for Criminal Justice. For more information, click here.
Oklahoma City University School of Law is fully approved by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. It serves a diverse student body of approximately 400.
Oklahoma City University School of Law’s nearly 7,000 alumni practice in every state and several foreign countries.
The Criminal Justice conference is free for OCU students, OCU employees, and OCU Law Alumni Association members. The cost is $15 for other alumni and the general public.
Registration for the online seminar is limited and closes Jan. 21, 2021.