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Report Takes Aim at Oklahoma’s “Absurd” Overcriminalization of Harmless Conduct

For decades, politicians have taken aim at the increasing amount of regulation that business owners face at the state and federal level, pointing out the drag such regulations take on economic growth. But rarely have those same leaders looked at the ever-increasing amount of criminal laws that seem to serve no one’s needs while criminalizing harmless behavior. A recently released report by the Manhattan Institute entitled, “Overcriminalizing the Sooner State” takes aim at some of the pointless criminal laws created in Oklahoma which “often place individuals in legal jeopardy for unknowingly engaging in seemingly innocuous, but nonetheless illegal, conduct” and result in “absurd” arrests, including the arrest of an Oklahoma bartender for infusing vodka with pickles and bacon.

Oklahoma Has a Criminal Code Ten Times Longer Than the National Model

Oklahoma legislators have created an average of 26 new criminal laws a year over the past six to create a criminal code that has 1,232 sections, or more than ten times the length of the Model Penal Code (created by the National Law Institute as a guide for state legislatures) and longer than the criminal codes in Texas, which has 387 sections, and Kansas, which has 362 sections. At that length, ordinary citizens cannot be expected to know what is and is not illegal, meaning they run the risk of being branded criminals based on conduct that they never realized was against the law.

Oklahoma Law Criminalizes Behavior Regardless of Intent

Some of the more strange and unexpected criminal laws that Oklahoma has on its books include laws criminalizing:

  • violating the Sabbath
  • the practice of fortune-telling
  • “…casting contumelious reproach or profane ridicule upon God”
  • “[f]ailure to leave any gates, doors, fences, road blocks and obstacles or signs in the condition in which they were found, while engaged in the recreational use of the land of another”
  • advertisement for sale of pets by an unlicensed commercial pet breeder
  • failure to conspicuously post certain information at job sites
  • unknowingly interfering with an inspection
  • unknowingly assisting a bondsman whose license has been revoked

While some of these laws are rarely if ever enforced, they nevertheless create a climate in which citizens can be branded criminals and face jail time for harmless actions. Worse still, because some of the laws target behavior regardless of whether the actor knew that he was engaging in the behavior (e.g. “unknowingly”), the law wrongfully targets people regardless of intent.

Oklahoma Makes Workplace Actions Criminal

The report also points out that Oklahoma law takes aim at workplace issues that other states would treat as purely civil matters. For example, a speech pathologist can be charged with a crime for failing to follow state law with respect to his or her work. Other professions that are governed by Oklahoma’s criminal law include:

  • Barbers
  • Athletic trainers
  • Dieticians
  • Welders
  • Interior Designers

As the report points out, many of these laws are not even created by state legislators but are instead delegated to administrators to create, placing “well-meaning Oklahomans at risk of prison for unknowingly violating rules promulgated by unelected officials.”

Legal Representation in Your Oklahoma Criminal Prosecution

While some of Oklahoma’s laws and arrests seem funny, getting arrested and facing criminal charges is no laughing matter. If you have been arrested and/or charged with a crime in Oklahoma, or are under investigation, it is important to work with a criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and your freedom.

Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney Patrick Quillian is a former Oklahoma district attorney who relies on his years of experience in prosecuting cases to provide the best possible defense for all defendants being investigated or charged with state or federal crimes. Contact the office of J. Patrick Quillian, Attorney at Law, today at 405.294.4448 to schedule a free consultation to see what his criminal defense team can do for you.