The Criminal Process
Getting Arrested in Oklahoma
There are three possible scenarios which can set the criminal process in motion. Charges can be brought against a citizen of Oklahoma either through 1.) a charging Information, which lays out the relevant factual situation and the offense for which the individual is charged, or by 2.) grand jury indictment. In either situation, an arrest warrant will be issued, and an individual may be arrested pursuant to the warrant. The third situation involves an officer arresting an individual without a warrant. Generally speaking, the police can make an arrest without a warrant if:
- the police observe the person attempting or committing a crime, or
- a reliable informant provides reasonably sound information to the police regarding a felony crime and the person who committed that crime, and if time permits, the police verify the information, or if time does not allow, the police should be reasonably certain that the information is valid, or
- the time lost in obtaining a warrant would permit the perpetrator to escape or evidence to be lost, and
- the officer has probable cause for an arrest.
When an individual is arrested, he or she is processed, usually at the local police station or county sheriff’s office, and depending on the criminal charges involved, can be held over for an initial appearance before a judge who has jurisdiction.
The Initial Court Appearance
Once an individual is arrested and processed, the adversarial process begins. The individual, who is now an incarcerated Defendant, must appear before a judge with proper jurisdiction within a reasonable time. This initial appearance usually occurs within 24 hours, unless the arrest happens over the weekend. If the individual is still incarcerated, then the initial appearance often happens via video arraignment. Bond will be set at the initial arraignment. The Defendant will remain incarcerated until he or she either posts bail or is granted a release on his or her own personal recognizance.
Lowering Your Bail in Oklahoma
Many counties in Oklahoma use a pre-formulated schedule for bail amounts based on the nature of the crime involved, while other counties rely on a judge’s discretion. A Defendant can request a hearing to lower bail at any time during the criminal process. Generally, a judge will consider the following in deciding whether to lower bail:
- The offense the Defendant is charged with;
- The criminal history of the Defendant, if any;
- Whether the Defendant is a flight risk;
- Any potential danger to the public; and
- Other relevant factors the judge may deem applicable.
Keep in mind, the main purpose of setting bail is to insure that the Defendant will appear at all required court proceedings, while also protecting the public from any potential threat of harm. Luckily, there are other restrictions that can be put in place, such as GPS ankle-monitoring, which may sway a judge into lowering bail. One factor that a judge will not consider: the Defendant’s ability to pay the bail. Still, according to the Oklahoma Constitution bail is a right, except that it may be denied for:
- capital offenses when the proof of guilt is evident, or the presumption thereof is great;
- violent offenses;
- offenses where the maximum sentence may be life imprisonment or life imprisonment without parole;
- felony offenses where the person charged with the offense has been convicted of two or more felony offenses arising out of different transactions; and
- controlled dangerous substances offenses where the maximum sentence may be at least ten (10) years imprisonment.
Yet, even if the Defendant is charged with one of the above offenses, the proof or presumption of guilt must be great. Furthermore, the judge must also find that there is no condition he or she can impose that will assure that there is no threat of danger to the public.
Posting Your Bail in Oklahoma
There are multiple methods one may employ to post his or her bail. If enough funds are readily available, a Defendant can simply post cash in the full amount. The reality of the situation though is that most people will not be in a position to do such. With this in mind, the majority of criminal Defendants use bail bondsman services. An Oklahoma bail bondsman will usually require that the Defendant post between 10% and 15% of the bail with the bail bondsman acting as a surety for the remaining amount. Many bail bond providers will also require collateral if the Defendant is not a resident of Oklahoma. Remember though, you do not have to post bail. For whatever reason, many Defendants choose to remain in custody pending the outcome of the criminal process.
Oklahoma Preliminary Hearings
The Oklahoma Constitution guarantees all individuals charged by information with a felony the right to a Preliminary Hearing. A Preliminary Hearing is an evidentiary hearing at which the State of Oklahoma, by and through the District Attorney’s Office for the county in which the Defendant is charged, must present enough evidence to give the judge probable cause the alleged crime was committed. Specifically, the prosecutor must present enough evidence to show the court:
- probable cause that a crime was committed, and
- probable cause that the defendant committed the crime.
If the judge presiding over the preliminary hearing finds the prosecution has met its burden, then the judge will “bind over” the Defendant for trial. The Defendant will then have to appear for District Court Arraignment in front of the District Judge assigned to his or her case. However, many times a Defendant will waive his or her Preliminary Hearing in the interest of further negotiating a plea agreement if he or she is guilty of the offense.
Oklahoma Plea Negotiations
There is neither a Constitutional right nor a statutory right to a plea agreement. However, the reality of the Oklahoma criminal process is that the vast majority of criminal cases end in a plea bargain. An experienced Oklahoma criminal defense attorney will never coerce a Defendant to take a plea agreement. Plea agreements should only be pursued when the Defendant is ready to admit responsibility to the court and plead guilty.
Oklahoma Jury Trial
Every person charged with a criminal offense is entitled to a jury trial in Oklahoma. An Oklahoma misdemeanor jury will consist of six people. An Oklahoma felony jury will consist of twelve people. You have the right to be represented by an attorney of your choice at jury trial. There are numerous other jury trial rights including but not limited to:
- the right not to testify,
- the right to confront witnesses, and
- the right to use the court’s process to compel the production of favorable evidence.
Furthermore, a Defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest burden in our legal system. The jury verdict must be unanimous as to either guilt or innocence. If the jury cannot come to a unanimous decision, the case will be declared a mistrial. If a mistrial is declared, the State of Oklahoma will have the option of retrying its case-in-chief against the Defendant.
Every person convicted in the State of Oklahoma is entitled to a direct appeal of the conviction to Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. Time is of the essence, as there are certain requirements and procedures which MUST be set in motion in an Oklahoma appeal; these actions must be commenced within the statutorily enumerated time periods. For this reason, it is imperative that you are represented by an experienced Oklahoma criminal defense attorney.
Post Conviction Relief
Through the Oklahoma Post Conviction Procedure Act, a Defendant is allowed to collaterally challenge his or her conviction if one of the following instances arises:
- the conviction or the sentence was in violation of the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution or laws of this state;
- the court was without jurisdiction to impose sentence;
- the sentence exceeds the maximum authorized by law;
- there exists evidence of material facts, not previously presented and heard, that requires vacation of the conviction or sentence in the interest of justice;
- the sentence has expired, his suspended sentence, probation, parole, or conditional release unlawfully revoked, or he is otherwise unlawfully held in custody or other restraint; or
- the conviction or sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack upon any ground of alleged error heretofore available under any common law, statutory or other writ, motion, petition, proceeding or remedy.
It is important to note that many of the issues that would normally allow for a Defendant to petition a Court for Post Conviction Relief will be waived if they were evident at the time of Appeal and the Defendant either failed to appeal or failed to propose the error. This concern can be erased by hiring an experienced Oklahoma criminal defense attorney.