As with many important issues, states across the country are divided when it comes to capital punishment (widely known as the death penalty). Some don’t allow it under the law, while others have moratoriums on this practice issued by their governors.
Many, like Oklahoma, have laws that allow people to be sentenced to death. Of these states, Oklahoma continues to have one of the highest execution rates in the country — and more than one type of execution available.
Which offenses can make a person eligible for the death penalty?
Under Oklahoma law, a person who pleads guilty or nolo contendre (no contest) or who is convicted of first-degree murder can be sentenced to death. That’s not the only option. They may also be sentenced to life in prison – with or without a chance for parole. With that said, not everyone convicted of first-degree murder is sentenced to death. There typically needs to be some particularly egregious circumstances that impact someone’s case for this eligibility to come into play. What other factors are considered when determining whether someone is sentenced to death? These factors involve the circumstances of the murder, who the victims were and judgments about the offender. These include the following:
- The murder itself was “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.”
- The person committed the murder in exchange for money or other type of payment, whether it was actually a “murder for hire” or not.
- The person committed the murder to prevent their arrest or prosecution.
- The victim was a law enforcement officer or Department of Corrections employee who was doing their job at the time of their murder.
- The person knowingly endangered other people’s lives during the commission of the murder.
Other factors involving the person’s criminal history and their potential to reoffend may also be considered. For example, if a person has one or more previous felony convictions for violent crimes or threatened violence, that can be a factor in their sentencing. So can the likelihood that they would commit further violent acts in the future and could, therefore, be a “threat to society.”
A first-degree murder charge in Oklahoma needs to be treated seriously from the very beginning. There are options for fighting the charge or at least working to get it reduced. Even a conviction for first-degree murder doesn’t have to result in the death penalty. The sooner you seek experienced legal guidance, the more likely you are to avoid the worst-case scenario possible under the circumstances.