Tulsa, OK Criminal Defense & Family Law Blog

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ferguson, Missouri Justice Department Reaches Tentative Agreement Re Police Procedure

Is the agreement to systemic changes in Ferguson police dept. indicative of a national movement?

It is possible that the tentative agreement to systemic changes in the Ferguson Police Department is a harbinger of positive changes in towns and cities nationwide. The changes agreed to are the result of seven months of careful negotiations following the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014. It is hoped, and seems likely, that this current deal will avert a civil rights lawsuit in that case. Such a lawsuit, charging the police department with resisting necessary changes, could have been brought against the Ferguson Police Department by federal officials.

The agreement, posted on the city's website, is 131 pages in length. Three public forums over the next two weeks have been scheduled so that residents can have input into the final document. The federal agency also plans to hold a public hearing on the topic.

Provisions of the Agreement

According to the tentative agreement, the following changes must be implemented, the first three within 180 days:

  1. All patrol officers, supervisors and jail workers must wear body cameras and microphones; the equipment will be installed inside all squad cars.
  2. The cameras must be activated during all traffic stops, arrests, searches and interactions with individuals perceived as being in mental health crises.
  3. The municipal code will be altered to repeal sections authorizing jail for people who fail to pay fines for violations.
  4. All police officers and court employees will undergo annual training on "bias-free policing" in which they will be taught to recognize and dismantle their own subconscious prejudices.
  5. New training will also be required in procedures for stops, searches, arrests, use of force, and proper responses to protesters and demonstrators.

Perhaps most importantly, the agreement states that Ferguson will have to develop an innovative recruitment plan specifically focused on attracting more minority applicants to the police force. At the time of Brown's death, one of the major points of contention was that the police force was practically all white in a city that is largely comprised of people of color.

Though a St. Louis County grand jury did not indict former Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, who is white, in the death of Brown, who was black, deciding that evidence supported the officer's claim that he shot Brown in self-defense, this discrepancy remained a flashpoint for turmoil in the country.

Who will pay for the changes?

One of the reasons that public forums on the topic are considered essential is that the required changes in policing are going to cost the city a good deal of money. Either citizens will have to pay for the new services through increases in their property and sales taxes or there will have to be municipal layoffs.

Why the Changes to the Policing Procedures Are Necessary

After Brown's tragic death, followed immediately by community and national outrage, a federal investigation into the Ferguson police force uncovered widespread racial bias within the city's criminal justice system. The following defects in policing were reported in March by the Justice Department:

  • Routine use of excessive force
  • Common issuing of petty citations
  • Frequent baseless traffic stops
  • Heavy dependency on fines as a source of city revenue

The recent document, if it is enacted appropriately, is hoped to go a long way towards calming local tensions and providing a model for increased justice in other parts of the country.

If you have been charged with a crime, or are under suspicion, the sooner you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your interests, the better the outcome is likely to be.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Charges against Picabo Street a Good Reminder that Domestic Violence is Not Just a Thing Between Intimate Partners

“Olympic gold-medalist skier Picabo Street has been charged with assault and domestic violence after allegedly pushing her 76-year-old father down two flights of stairs in December…”  I had to read that sentence a few times for it to fully sink in. Street, the downhill skier we all cheered to a gold medal during the 1998 Olympics, apparently may have a dark side none of us knew about or suspected was there. This sad situation is a good reminder that domestic violence is a widespread problem that encompasses far more than abuse directed at an intimate partner.

When the topic of domestic violence comes up, the image most people conjure up is one of a lovers spat that turned physical. However, domestic violence encompasses much more than that. Domestic violence can refer to an assault against any member of the family. Spouses, parents, children, romantic partners, step-family members, grandparents and grandchildren can all be the victims of domestic violence. Some of the most heart-wrenching abuse cases are not intimate partner cases, but cases where children or elderly relatives have been subjected to abuse.

No matter how close a relationship you have with someone not on the list above - for example, a neighbor, co-worker, or close friend - an assault against them is just an assault, not domestic violence. This is an important distinction because the penalties for domestic violence are much stricter than those for regular criminal assault

In a domestic violence situation, not only do you face jail time and a fine, you could also be barred from interacting with certain family members, lose your job, and have your right to own a gun stripped away.

Because these penalties are so severe, getting an experienced attorney involved early on in a domestic violence case is critical. But what sort of attorney should you look for? This is a criminal issue, which would suggest a criminal lawyer familiar with domestic violence cases would be best, but at the same time, these issues are very family centric, so having an attorney that practices family law is also helpful.

Even in the news reports on the Street case you see this dual criminal law/family law dynamic at play. Street’s lawyer emphasizes the case is a private, family matter that Street hopes to find an “amicable resolution” to, but in the same statement reiterates that Street is denying any wrongdoing. It’s a delicate balance.

A hearing for the Street case is set for February 16, so we will have to wait and see what happens in that case, but the prosecutor is probably going to be pretty lenient.  If I had to guess what will happen, I would say the charges will likely be dropped. News reports note that Street doesn’t have criminal record, and the statement from her lawyer about this being a private, family matter suggests the family wants to keep this more of a family law matter than a criminal law one.

Pushing these cases toward a family law resolution is not uncommon, even for non-celebrities. That is not because the court system doesn’t take these cases seriously, but because the families often want it that way. So, if you are facing a domestic violence charge, or have been a victim of abuse, hiring an attorney that is well-versed in both criminal and family law is the way to go.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Supreme Court Hands Down Historic Death Penalty Sentencing Opinion

What are the latest updates concerning American death penalty laws?

In terms of executions per capita, the state of Oklahoma ranks first in the nation, having executed 112 death row inmates since the re-inception of the death penalty in 1976. Since that time, the U.S. Supreme Court has tirelessly honed the scope of allowable death penalty procedures, particularly with regard to the type of offender eligible for execution and the method by which an execution may be carried out.

Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in a case out of Florida involving the sentencing of a convict facing a possible death sentence. In Hurst v. Florida, the issue the jury considered was whether Hurst should be put to death for killing his co-worker . They found that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment given the aggravating factors presented post-conviction.

However, under Florida law, all criminal sentences – including capital punishment – are reviewable by the judge assigned to the proceeding. If, in the opinion of the court, a certain punishment is not suitable, the court may override the jury’s decision and enter its own sentence. In other words, the jury serves in an advisory role to the court, which Hurst argued violates the Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and that ,  only a jury should be permitted to render a death sentence.

After hearing oral arguments in October, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling on January 12, 2016 . By an 8-1 vote, the Court found that the Florida sentencing scheme was unconstitutional, and that only a jury may sentence a defendant to the death penalty. Further, a trial court is not within its powers to vacate a life or death sentence in favor of its own preferred sentence, as this violates the defendant’s rights under the Constitution.

The ruling, despite pertaining to a Florida case, will have a larger impact across the nation and will require each state to ensure its own death penalty sentencing schemes are up to par with the ruling in Hurst v. Florida.

If you are facing recent criminal charges, you should consult with a qualified criminal defense attorney. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Shelton and Lambert’s Divorce File Sealed

Can you have your divorce file sealed from public view in the state of Oklahoma?

Most of the time divorce is not pretty. It is therefore understandable that some people would prefer to keep the details of their divorces private. When celebrities divorce, this can become a problem because there are usually various individuals and media news sources searching for information about the case. If parties wish to conceal certain information from the public, they can ask to have the records of the case sealed. Such is the case with country music stars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. 

Shelton and Lambert were married for 4 years and resided in Oklahoma. Shelton filed for divorce on July 6, 2015 in Pottawatomie County. The couple was officially divorced by decree July 20, 2015. Judge John Gardner of Pottawatomie County decided to seal the couple's divorce records. Unfortunately, many have found this to be contrary to state law.

In Oklahoma, according to state law passed in November 2014, in order to seal the records of a case, there must be a privacy interest that is greater than that of the public interest in the information sealed. Representative Aaron Stiles has said that he cannot see how this test in met in this case. Rather, he believes the case was sealed due to the couple’s celebrity status. Are other wealthy and/or well-known Oklahoma citizens asking for their cases to be sealed? Is this a privilege the state only allows to upper class citizens? Without these questions answered, Stiles is concerned about fairness. Judge Gardner has defended his decision stating that allowing the couple’s divorce record to be public would compromise their personal and financial privacy.  Still, many are not convinced.

If you are facing a divorce and have concerns about privacy, you need a lawyer you can trust to fight for your rights. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Unaffordable Child Support Orders are said to motivate poor non-custodial fathers to stop working and paying, the opposite of the intended effect.

The original idea behind the American child support system was to force deadbeat dads with income to pay for the custodial parent’s raising of the child. But United States child support debt is currently estimated at $113 billion dollars.

The problem that some see with the current state of affairs is that a large majority of this child support debt is owed by those making less than $10,000 a year. This support is owed by poor parents who have shown that they cannot pay. One study has found that among parents with reported annual incomes of $10,000 or less, the median child support order represents 83% of their paycheck. Some are now finding out that such a burden has succeeded in motivating such non-custodial parents to discontinue working.

Recently there has been a push by some to change practices and policies that some say are not appropriately calibrated for today’s economic times and to discontinue this backwards motivation. For example, Vicki Turetsky of the Office of Child Support Enforcement has stated that courts often “impute” income to the noncustodial parent when none exists. This means that courts will base child support payments on a full time minimum wage job, even when the noncustodial parent does not have one.

In addition, child support debt cannot be erased by bankruptcy or the growing up of a child. It can result in incarceration, which can make matters worse. On top of that, it can encourage young mothers to become dependent on young fathers who are just as poor. In an even worse scenario, some young fathers who are incarcerated can sometimes accrue child support arrears while in jail with no way to pay them. And when they are released to the community they have a difficult time finding work due to their criminal record, making it even harder to pay these arrears off.


One idea which has been floated around is forbidding such child support arrears from accruing while the non custodial parent is incarcerated. The idea is said to have bipartisan support. But other measures that go farther do not appear have Republican support, as they are said to undermine the principle of personal responsibility that is an important part of the current system.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Oklahoma Case Brings Death Penalty Even More into Question

Will there continue to be a death penalty in the United States?

Controversy has surrounded the death penalty for decades and every once in a while a particular case draws the public's attention to the topic with renewed vigor. Such a case is the one involving Richard Glossip in Oklahoma. Glossip was saved when he was within hours of execution not once, but twice.

An Execution Twice Delayed

Last September 16th, Glossip was granted a 2-week reprieve by an Oklahoma Appeals Court in order to review his murder conviction for arranging for a 1997 death. Glossip's conviction had been based almost entirely on the word of the man who actually executed the killing; Glossip always maintained his innocence.
During this appeal, the Court of Appeals held that his conviction should stand, but 2 weeks later, Glossip's execution was again postponed when Oklahoma officials didn't have the correct lethal drugs to perform the execution. At this point, not only Glossip's execution, but all executions in Oklahoma have been put on hold indefinitely. The state of Oklahoma, up until now one on the last death-penalty strongholds in the U.S., has now called the death penalty into question once again.

Opinions and Statistics Regarding the Death Penalty

Certainly, the number of individuals executed in the U.S. has declined remarkably during the last two and a half decades. While 1999 saw 98 executions, in 2015 there have been only 28. According to opponents of capital punishment, their movement is carrying more and more weight and, in the future, the death penalty may cease to be considered appropriate punishment for any crime.
In general, the South has been the region of the country least willing to abolish the death penalty, but even there, there are signs of uncertainty. Although, according to both Gallup polls and the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans still support capital punishment, 2015 showed the highest level of opposition to the death penalties in 40 years: 37 percent.
While a majority of Americans still favor capital punishment, surveys from both Gallup and the Pew Research Center this year showed public opposition to the death penalty to be at its highest levels in four decades — about 37 percent.

Reasons the Death Penalty Is Being Questioned Recently

There are several reasons doubt is being cast on the legitimacy of the death penalty process. These include:
• Six cases in 2015 in which evidence exonerated inmates on the verge of being executed
• Cases in which chemicals have malfunctioned causing extended, painful deaths
• Statistics that show minority prisoners, especially African-Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately targeted for execution, particularly for murders of White victims.
• Top officials, including President Obama, finding the death penalty "deeply troubling," particularly when the death process is unnecessarily extended
• Two liberal Supreme Court Justices, Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, indicating that they would support a historic challenge to capital punishment

Evidence That the Death Penalty Is on the Wane

There is a great deal of evidence that the government, and the population at large, is reconsidering how, when, and if the death penalty should be meted out. During the past year, the U.S. has issued only 49 new death sentences, the fewest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973. The chemicals necessary for the few lethal injections legally approved are in short supply. Texas, well-known to be the state that typically carries out the most executions in the U.S., handed down only two new death sentences during 2015, the lowest number since the 1970s. Moreover, the number of states allowing executions has diminished this year as the penalty is reconsidered for practical, as well as moral, reasons.

If you are faced with criminal charges of any kind, be assured that the Law Offices of Greg Lavender are well-prepared to offer you a vigorous and skilled defense. They are adept at plea bargaining negotiations and courtroom defense, as well as highly capable in the appeals arena.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Oklahoma City Council Approves Panhandling Limits

What are the prohibitions for panhandling in Oklahoma City?

Poverty and homelessness are becoming increasingly problematic for cities across the nation, and Oklahoma City is no exception. In fact, panhandling has become more and more common in city street medians.

While poverty and begging are not crimes, panhandling in the street can be a public safety issue. With this in mind, the Oklahoma City Council recently adopted new curbs prohibiting most activities on medians within 200 feet of an intersection. Currently, going into the street to panhandle is already against the law.

Opponents of the new ordinance had petitioned the council to delay the measure in order to further study the problems of homelessness and poverty and come up with new public safety strategies related to panhandling. The council based its decision on accident reports provided the Oklahoma City police department.

Some residents argued that this was not a public safety issue, but an effort to stop people from conducting business on the medians, particularly so-called street paper vendors who have been selling the Curbside Chronicle. Moreover, others contend that this is contrary to criminal justice reform measures working their way through the U.S. Congress and that the ordinance amounts to the criminalization of poverty.

The ordinance is designed to rid most medians at intersections of panhandlers seeking handouts from drivers, but the measure will also stop firefighters from collecting money for charity. Nonetheless, similar ordinances have been successful in other cities that have also put into place prohibitions on aggressive panhandling.

However, this measure will place a greater burden on poor people who already have difficulty paying court fines, even though there are diversion programs that prevent them from being jailed. The question remains, however, how the ordinance will be enforced. Still, the issues of poverty and homelessness need to be addressed in other ways so that authorities can focus on more urgent criminal matters.

In any case, whether or not criminal justice reform measures will be implemented remains to be seen. In the meantime, anyone who has been charged with committing a crime needs the advice of a qualified defense attorney.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Tulsa Considers New Plan for Public Drunkenness Offenders

What are Oklahoma’s incarceration policies for public drunkenness offenders and how might they change in the future?

Currently, in Oklahoma, public drunkenness offenders are booked and held in a facility with the general prison population. Some favor a change of approach for a number of reasons. It is argued that a new policy would benefit police officers, offenders and taxpayers in Oklahoma. The proposed plan is to hire a nonprofit agency to take in public drunkenness offenders instead of having these offenders enter the criminal justice system via prisons. The offenders would be released to the nonprofit agency which would then house the offenders for 10 hours and not charge them for the offense. Their stay there would be confidential. The booking process would be reduced in time from 2 hours necessary if an officer were to bring the offender to the police station, to 10 to 15 minutes if the offender was brought to the nonprofit agency.

Officials say that the current state of affairs negatively affects policing because public drunkenness is unfortunately not able to be prioritized by law enforcement as a public health problem. When a police officer comes across a person who is in violation of the law, the individual is booked and taken to a holding cell in much the same way as a person who has violated a more serious crime. As mentioned earlier, the process takes a very long time. Officers have said that if they’re going to spend 2 hours booking someone anyway, they would rather it be a more serious offender. Therefore, a new policy would allow officers to process public drunkenness offenders more quickly and use more of their valuable time for more serious offenses.

The new policy would also benefit offenders. If the plan currently in negotiation succeeds, offenders would be brought to a nonprofit designed to service those suffering from alcoholism. This, it is felt, would be more helpful than a period of incarceration. The offender would get the chance to sober up at the facility and, hopefully, have a chance to seek treatment.

The new policy is also said to be beneficial for taxpayers. If the nonprofit agency is retained, the booking process would be reduced from 2 hours to 15 minutes. Officers able to utilize the nonprofit agency instead of the police station for booking, would be back on patrol much more quickly. This means that, effectively, Tulsa is putting more officers on patrol.

Taxpayers are presently suffering under the weight of a judicial system already clogged with public drunkenness cases. Under this new plan, public drunkenness cases would stop clogging up the court system. A lesser burden on the courts would mean less expense for taxpayers. Finally, if public drunkenness offenders are not locked up, the cost of housing them would decrease

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney promptly.

Monday, November 30, 2015

False Imprisonment Charges Result from Student's Calls for Help

When do charges of false imprisonment apply?

A frantic text from a female student to her professor, combined with her cry for help to a Sneads store clerk, resulted in her regaining her freedom. Her former boyfriend, Jia Liu, a 22-year-old from Plano, Texas, is now under arrest on charges of false imprisonment, having allegedly taken the young woman from Tallahassee to Texas against her will.

According to the complaint filed by the Sneads Police Department, Liu is alleged to have flown to Tallahassee from Texas and located his estranged girlfriend who told him that she had obtained an order of protection against him the day before, but that it had not yet been served.

In spite of the order of protection, the two spent much of the weekend together and he picked her up one day from Florida State University where she is a student. She told him that, in spite of her love for him, she wanted to end the relationship, but he said he wanted to talk to her about "fixing" it, and requested that she get into his car. With the understanding that they would talk as he drove her back to her apartment, she did so.

Against her will, however, Liu drove her towards the interstate highway and she became alarmed. She texted a frightened message to one of her professors, pleading with him to call 911 and the professor notified the FSU campus police. The campus police faxed a copy of the existing injunction of protection to the Sneads Police Department, which had already been notified by the store clerk who had reported that the victim was screaming at her to call the police. The clerk was able to describe the car in which the woman had been trapped as a green Toyota Camry.

When Liu was arrested, he admitted that he was aware of the order of protection and that he had refused to take his captive home, but insisted that he intended no harm and stated that he just wanted to talk to the woman where she didn't "have an escape."

In addition to being charged with false imprisonment, Liu was also issued, at the request of campus police, a trespass warning to keep him off the FSU campus. It has been noted by authorities that Liu made no attempt to resist arrest and cooperated fully with police. Both Liu and the former girlfriend are from Taiwan, so his defense may argue that he was unfamiliar with U.S. law at the time of the crime. Nonetheless, authorities also state that the order of protection was issued in response to an incident during which Liu choked the woman in question.

If you have been charged with false imprisonment or a similar crime, it is essential that you have an experienced, aggressive attorney on your side in order to obtain the best possible outcome.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Judge Issues Gag Order in Oklahoma State Homecoming Parade Prosecution

What are the latest updates on the Oklahoma State Homecoming Parade case?

On Monday, November 9th, progress was made in the recent case against Adacia Chambers for allegedly causing the injury and death of multiple people at the Oklahoma State Homecoming parade. The original judge recused herself because she knew one of the victims. The substitute judge sent Ms. Chambers for a mental evaluation and adjourned the case to a date in December. The judge also issued a gag order, prohibiting all involved in the case from publicly speaking about it for 2 weeks, until defense counsel could be heard on the order.

Since the crash occurred, a motive has been sought. One possible explanation is that Ms. Chambers had mental health issues. Ms. Chambers is accused of driving through a red light, around a barricade, over a police motorcycle, and through a crowd of spectators. A video of Ms. Chambers being processed upon her entry into jail includes audio of her admitting to past mental health issues and struggles with attempted suicide. She admitted to feeling suicidal at the time of the crash. Her father has admitted that his daughter has had treatment for mental health issues in the past. The prosecution has publicly stated that it is their theory that Ms. Chambers’ behavior at the time of the crash was intentional.

Because it seems from reports that the defense will not be based on the identification of the driver, it may turn out to be very important for the defense to ensure that the jury is aware of the mental health of the defendant. If such mental health issues were present and arguable, the case may hinge on whether the defendant was sane at the time of the crash, and therefore capable of being criminally responsible. Thus, the gag order issued in this case is much more important than it may originally seem and may turn out to be a contested issue at the time that the judge hears arguments from defense counsel in the near future.

If you have been charged with a crime, you should consult with a criminal attorney promptly.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Young Men Wanted For Oklahoma Murder

What are the consequences associated with a first-degree murder charge?

It comes as no surprise that those involved in the procurement of illegal substances are at a higher risk of being involved with other crimes. Often, dealings involving drugs can take a wrong turn and result in violence. That is exactly what happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the fall of 2015.

On the night of the 29th of October, Edwin Monroe Harris, 19, and Norman Gaines III, 18, ventured onto the 2100 block with the intention of buying drugs. They met with 46-year-old Ronald Alvis Dinkins in an effort to purchase Lortab, a liquid painkiller. The deal did not go as smoothly as planned and Harris and Gaines used a firearm to steal the Lortab from Dinkins. Dinkins was shot during the altercation. Harris and Gaines then jumped into a red Chevrolet pick-up and attempted to flee. When another man tried to stop them, they hit him and dragged him under the vehicle for a number of feet.

Now, Harris and Gaines are wanted for murder. Both of the men were charged with first-degree murder as well as robbery with a firearm. Harris, who is currently subject to a sentencing deferral for an assault with dangerous weapon, was also charged with possession of a firearm while under the supervision of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
Murder is the most serious crime you can commit and therefore, the punishments are severe. A person convicted of murder in the State of Oklahoma can be sentenced to life in prison, with or without the possibility of parole, or to the death penalty. If Harris and/or Gaines are convicted of first-degree murder, they could spend the rest of their lives in jail or face lethal injection.

If you are facing murder charges, or charges for any other violent crime, you need an aggressive criminal defense attorney by your side.

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