Oklahoma prisoners who claim their attorney failed to introduce evidence in state court proceedings may no longer seek relief in federal courts. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Shinn v. Ramirez on May 23 that evidence of attorney error is insufficient to bring a state criminal case to federal court under habeas corpus. The Innocence Project said the ruling could cause innocent people to remain behind bars. 

“It is therefore now incumbent upon the states to ensure that people charged with crimes have qualified and resourced counsel and there is a meaningful opportunity to litigate claims of trial counsel ineffectiveness,” Innocence Project director Christina Swarns said in a May 24 statement

People convicted of a felony in Oklahoma may raise legal issues in a first appeal, which is typically filed at least six months after a conviction. If the appeals court rejects the initial petition, the petitioner is left with few options.

As I previously reported, Oklahoma doesn’t have a statewide innocence inquiry commission to investigate wrongful convictions. None of the state’s 27 district attorney offices have staff dedicated to investigating innocence claims. Several dozen municipalities, including Dallas County in Texas and St. Louis County in Missouri, have established conviction integrity units for that purpose. 

One proposal to investigate certain capital cases failed to gain traction in this year’s legislative session. House Bill 1551 by Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, would have established a death penalty conviction integrity unit under the Pardon and Parole Board. It cleared the House Criminal Justice Committee and never received a full chamber vote. 

McDugle is an outspoken supporter of Richard Glossip, an Oklahoma death row prisoner who maintains his innocence in the 1997 murder of Oklahoma City motel manager Barry Van Treese. A bipartisan group of nearly three dozen lawmakers signed a letter last year calling for an independent review of Glossip’s case. 

Glossip could be put to death by the end of the year. Last Friday, following a federal court ruling affirming the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol, Attorney General John O’Conner requested 25 execution dates from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. The requested dates begin on Aug. 25 and are spaced four weeks apart.

I’ll be watching to see if lawmakers seek interim studies on post-conviction appeals or conviction integrity units. The studies are typically approved by House and Senate leadership in late July and run from late August through November. 

Have questions, thoughts or story ideas? Let me know at kross@oklahomawatch.org or DM me on Twitter

What I’m Reading

  • Tulsa Mass Shooting Reignites Gun Policy Debate in Oklahoma: In Oklahoma, someone is killed with a gun every 12 hours, and the state ranks in the country’s top 10 for weakest gun regulations. Advocates for gun reform in Oklahoma have a long and uncertain road ahead. [StateImpact Oklahoma]
  • Latest Oklahoma County Jail Inspection Renews Concerns: Can a New Building Fix Problems? On June 28, Oklahoma County voters will vote on a bond proposal to build a new jail. Some advocates say safety and health concerns would likely carry over to a new facility. [The Oklahoman]
  • ‘So Much Work’: Tribal Criminal Justice Systems Discussed at Sovereignty Symposium: Leaders of six Oklahoma tribes say they need additional federal resources to handle a surge of criminal cases caused by the McGirt ruling. Under the 2020 Supreme Court decision, crimes committed by or against tribal citizens on reservations can only be prosecuted by the tribal nation or the federal government.[NonDoc]
  • Oklahoma Official Seeks Execution Dates for 25 Inmates: Oklahoma’s attorney general has asked the state’s highest appeals court to set execution dates for 25 death row inmates following a federal judge’s rejection of their challenge to the state’s lethal injection method. [The Associated Press]

Help Us Make a Difference

From the impact of COVID-19 behind bars to the effects of prison gerrymandering, my reporting focuses on how Oklahoma’s criminal justice system impacts people inside and outside of the system. It can take weeks or months for me to file public records requests, dig into documents and track down sources. As a nonprofit news organization, we rely on your financial support to do this time-consuming but important work. Help us make a difference.

Thank you to our principal organizational sponsors and funders
for their generous support. Learn more about their work by clicking on their logo.

Support our publication

Every day we strive to produce journalism that matters — stories that strengthen accountability and transparency, provide value and resonate with readers like you.

This work is essential to a better-informed community and a healthy democracy. But it isn’t possible without your support.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.