Christmas in Prison

Country/Folk singer John Prine crooned, "The searchlight in the big yard swings 'round with the gun and spotlights the snowflakes like dust in the sun. It's Christmas in prison; there'll be music tonight. I'll probably be homesick. I love you. Good night." For Prine, the lyrics are just part of a song, but for nearly 27,000 Oklahoma inmates, Christmas in prison is reality this year. Certainly, there are many inmates in Oklahoma prisons who deserve to be there; however, there are thousands of men and women who will spend Christmas away from their families because of a wrongful conviction or unjust sentence. Despite the best intentions of a criminal justice system, that justice sometimes eludes defendants. Innocent people go to prison. Nonviolent offenders receive unnecessarily harsh sentences. Defendants sit in jail because their bail is set excessively high. The Oklahoma Innocence Project (OIP) at Oklahoma City University School of Law is "dedicated to identifying and remedying cases of wrongful convictions in Oklahoma." For many, the OIP brings relief from unjust incarceration and reunites families separated by wrongful conviction. Still, while exoneration after a wrongful conviction is a tremendous relief, it would be better if the innocent were never convicted to begin with. Criminal defense attorneys work to uphold justice and to keep prosecutors and police from mishandling cases. It is the duty and responsibility of defense lawyers to uphold the constitutional rights of defendants and to ensure that prosecutors do not infringe upon those rights in pursuit of a conviction at any cost. When a defendant is, in fact, guilty of an offense, the defense attorney can work to negotiate fair sentencing. Oklahoma drug laws, for example, are notoriously rigid, allowing judges to dole out severe sentences for even relatively minor, nonviolent drug offenses. An experienced criminal lawyer can work within the law to find alternatives, including minimal sentencing, probation, and drug court. Many people do not realize that a defense attorney can be instrumental in having a defendant's bond reduced. When bail is set too high, a defendant sits in jail as he or she awaits the outcome of his case. This means that an innocent person may remain incarcerated throughout the course of the entire case until he or she is ultimately acquitted. A lawyer will work for a reduction in bail that can keep a defendant free pending his or her case. Christmas in prison is no laughing matter for Oklahoma inmates and their families. At Phillips and Associates, we are committed to protecting defendants' rights and to preserving justice without sacrificing the innocent in pursuit of convictions. Click here to learn about our tradition of success. Merry Christmas from the criminal defense law firm of Phillips and Associates.