Is desecration of the American flag a violent crime? What about putting others at risk while fleeing a police officer? Stealing copper? Child abandonment?
Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, said his disagreement with criminal justice bills during the session was based on how they distinguished between violent and nonviolent crimes. Offenses like copper theft and flag desecration were among the 34 crimes that Biggs contended were essentially violent and shouldn’t be eligible for lighter penalties under the legislation. He emphasized that issue and the bills’ treatment of repeat offenders in requesting an interim study.
“You want to say domestic abuse by strangulation is nonviolent? Talk to a domestic abuse victim,” he said in an interview, citing an example from his list.
Supporters of the justice bills have said the measures would lighten punishments for offenders who commit nonviolent crimes. The bills don’t define violent or nonviolent, but rather refer to a portion of state law – Section 571 of Title 57 – that lists 51 offenses under the label “violent crime.” Those include first-degree murder, assault and battery, extortion, rape, child abuse, robbery, child pornography and more. Most involve actions that cause, intend to cause or create risk of causing physical harm to victims. Some crimes, such as assault, could also include offenses such as domestic abuse.
Most of the crimes not listed in Section 571, and those that require serving 85 percent of a sentence (spelled out in a different statute), would have been eligible for less prison time and earlier parole consideration under the bills. Biggs said the leniency also applied to the 34 offenses, which were drawn from a different section of state law that lists a wide range of criminal acts, from bribery and nepotism to murder and kidnapping.
In an effort to meet his concerns, supporters of the bills amended legislation – Senate Bill 649, which would reduce extra prison time that nonviolent repeat offenders can receive – to include most of the 34 offenses. Those include desecration of the flag or a human corpse, domestic abuse, partial-birth abortion, cruelty to animals, aggravated assault, human trafficking, possession of a sawed-off shotgun, incest, child abandonment, indecent exposure and identity theft.
That wasn’t enough for Biggs.
“They gave us a partial list in one bill without addressing the root of the problem,” Biggs said. “(Gov. Mary Fallin) refused to address the fundamental flaw in this package of bills. … She was unwilling to even look at these bills from a victim’s point of view, and that’s sad but not surprising.”
Fallin disagreed, saying her office worked with Biggs and other critics to address their concerns, as demonstrated by adding the list of crimes.
“We did exactly what he said needed to be done and tried to accommodate him, and yet for some reason the bills still were held up,” she said.