Saturday, July 12, 2003

A Misleading CNN Story

Lots of bloggers are up in arms about this brief CNN story:
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) -- An Oklahoma man arrested on suspicion of beating his wife faced year in prison and a fine. But when he spit in an arresting officer's face, he got a life sentence instead, officials said Wednesday.

John Carl Marquez, 36, was convicted of "placing bodily fluid upon a government employee," a felony that can carry a life sentence because of the possibility of transmitting a potentially deadly disease.

State judge April Sellers White sentenced Marquez this week even though Marquez and the officer tested negative for any communicable disease.

Marquez also was convicted of assaulting a police officer, and a jury recommended the maximum sentence because he had previous convictions.

Marquez, arrested several months ago, could have received one year in prison and a $3,000 fine for wife beating, according to the Creek County court clerk's office.
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The story implies that Oklahoma's sentences for wife-beating and for spitting on an officer are amazingly disproportionate: One year vs. life in prison. And this implication rightly upsets a lot of people.

But anyone who does a little more research might come across this National Post story, which provides a few more details that make the sentencing a bit more explicable:
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In Oklahoma, as in many other U.S. States, a third felony conviction provides the jury with an opportunity to sentence a suspect to anywhere between four years in jail and a life sentence.

Marquez had two prior convictions from 1986, for first-degree rape and first-degree burglary, according to Assistant District Attorney Laura Farris.

After his arrest on the spitting charge, Marquez agreed to plead guilty to two felony counts of assault of a police officer and placing bodily fluids on a government employee and misdemeanour domestic assault on his wife.

Under the agreement, he was to receive a 40-year sentence on each felony, of which eight years would be in prison and the rest suspended.

But a district judge rejected the plea deal because of Marquez's prior convictions.

During the subsequent trial, Ms. Farris sought a 25-year term based on Marquez's prior convictions. His lawyer, Jason Serner, asked the jury for the minimum four-year sentence.

The jury, comprised of seven women and five men, unanimously rejected the defence request and opted for the most severe penalty.
* * *
So: The assault on Marquez's wife was a misdemeanor, which would explain the lower maximum sentence for that offense. And on the other hand, Marquez had two prior felony convictions, rape and burglary, and had pleaded guilty to two more felonies. In a "three strikes" state like Oklahoma, it shouldn't be too surprising that the jury took the opportunity to lock this guy up.

But you wouldn't know any of those details from reading the CNN story.


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