Life wasn't going well for Tolando Hall or her children in 2004. Hall's boyfriend, Robert Braxton, Jr., was abusive, and no one was immune. Braxton beat Hall, and he beat her children, who were only 3-months-old and 20-months-old. Hall discovered at a doctor's appointment that both her infant daughter and toddler son had broken ribs and femurs.
Authorities took both Braxton and Hall into custody. Braxton was charged with child abuse; Hall was charged with enabling child abuse. In Oklahoma, both crimes--active abuse and the more passive failure to protect from abuse--are subject to the same punishment.
Hall maintained that she did not know that the children were being abused, and she testified against Braxton at a preliminary hearing. Ultimately, Braxton accepted a plea deal from the prosecution. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison.
Hall, on the other hand, did not have the benefit of a plea agreement when she entered a blind plea. The judge determined that she had been "less than candid" in her testimony, and while admitting that she may have been fearful of her abusive boyfriend, he found that her perceived dishonesty outweighed the fear under which she operated. He sentenced her to 30 years in prison.
Let that sink in a minute. The man who physically abused two babies, breaking their ribs and legs, got two years in prison, while a woman against whom there was no evidence of ever physically harming her children, got three decades.
Since then, Braxton has been long released, while Hall has served more than a decade of her sentence and faces twenty more years. And the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, who had an opportunity to rectify this apparent injustice in 2015, denied clemency for Tolando Hall. Because enabling child abuse is an "85 Percent Crime" she is not eligible for parole until 2030--only four years short of the full 30 year sentence.
Now the ACLU of Oklahoma is taking on Hall's case. The group filed a writ of habeus corpus in Pottawatomie County asking for the release of Tolando Hall, who is incarcerated at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in that county. However, a judge there said that he did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. Now, the ACLU must file the extraordinary writ, intended to correct injustices when other methods have failed, in Oklahoma County, where the case was originally tried.
According to ACLU-Oklahoma executive director Ryan Kiesel, "We will take this case all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to."
Oklahoma's failure to protect laws often twice victimize the victims of domestic violence. According to Molly Bryant, an advocate from the Domestic Violence Intervention Services in Tulsa, "Some of our clients have also been charged with felonies under this law. The system really isn't understanding what domestic violence survivors go through."
Brady Henderson, legal director for ACLU of Oklahoma, estimates that 130 people are serving time under Oklahoma's failure to protect laws. These people are almost exclusively women, disproportionately women of color, and frequently victims of domestic violence themselves.
For more on the topic of how Oklahoma's failure to protect laws further victimize women who have already been abused through domestic violence, read our article on the Huffington Post.