In a recent Oklahoma case making national headlines, an Oklahoma City mother of four received a sentence of 10 years in prison for $31 worth of marijuana sales. She was charged with drug distribution and, because she had children in the home, possession of a dangerous substance in the presence of a minor.
In Oklahoma, as in Georgia and most other states, people facing first-time drug charges generally get suspended sentences in return for undergoing drug treatment and following certain requirements.
“When kids are involved, it’s different,” says former Kingfisher County Judge Susie Pritchett, who handled the case.
Although the facts of what happened aren’t in question, views differ sharply on the meaning of what happened. Should this defendant have been sentenced to a long jail term for endangering her kids, or is this another example of a war on drugs gone too far?
First-time offenders, expecting probation, pled guilty to distribution of marijuana
Patricia S. and her mother were arrested in January 2010 after they sold small amounts of marijuana to a police informant on two occasions. On the first occasion, Patricia’s 9-year-old son was there, and his grandmother asked him for some dollar bills to make change on the $11 sale. On the second occasion, all of Patricia’s children were present.
“It just seemed like easy money,” said Patricia, who admits having smoked marijuana but denies she is a drug user.
Prosecutors offered a plea deal that would have sent them to prison for two years. Since neither had any prior convictions and the amount of marijuana involved was small, they rejected the plea and gambled that they would get probation like most first-time drug offenders.
Patricia’s mother was fined and given a 30-year suspended sentence providing she undergoes drug and alcohol assessments. Patricia was also fined but was sentenced to 10 years for drug distribution and two years for possession, to be served concurrently.
“We were under the impression we would get probation. When I left for court, I just knew I was coming back home,” Patricia says. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. There were no goodbyes, they took me away right then.”
Judge Pritchett’s view of the events was harsh. She saw in Patricia a women without a stable residence (she and her husband had lost their home due to unpaid bills), who turned to drug sales when she needed money and had been running “an extensive operation” — one that exposed her children to drug activity.
“It was a way of life for them,” Pritchett says. “Considering these circumstances, I thought it was lenient. By not putting the grandmother in prison, she is able to help take care of the children.”
Before her arrest, Patricia worked in nursing homes. Because she now has a drug conviction, working in health care will no longer be an option. Despite that, Patricia is eager to start over.
“I’m already changed,” she said. “This is a real eye-opener. I’m going to get out of here, be with my kids and live my life.”
“Even though this seems like the worst thing … I’ve been blessed along the way,” she told reporters. “It could have been worse. I’m happy my kids are safe and, ultimately, I’m safe. I’m thankful I still have a family.”
Source: Tulsa World, “How $31 of pot gave mom a 10-year-prison sentence,” Ginnie Graham, February 20, 2011