Governor Vetoes Youthful Offender Accessory Bill

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has vetoed a bill that would increase the number of teens who could be prosecuted as youthful offenders. In vetoing the measure, Gov. Fallin said the measure was "too far-reaching." She said that she would like to work with lawmakers on replacement legislation that would still strengthen prosecution for teens accused of being an accessory to murder, but would not have the vast scope of Senate Bill 410.

Under existing laws, juvenile offenders can be prosecuted in one of three ways: as a juvenile delinquent, as a youthful offender, or as an adult. In most cases, juvenile offenders are adjudicated delinquent. This means that their cases are handled in juvenile court, and typically, those adjudicated delinquent are released from a juvenile detention facility prior to their 18th birthdays.

But not every crime is subject to juvenile proceedings, even if the defendant is under the age of 18. In Oklahoma, a 15, 16, or 17-year-old charged with first degree murder will be tried as an adult. A 13 or 14-year-old charged with first degree murder may be tried as an adult or certified as a juvenile delinquent or youthful offender.

Youthful offender status bridges the gap between delinquent adjudication and conviction as an adult. The courts recognize that some crimes are more serious and some minors more "dangerous" than others. However, while the juvenile justice system may not be stringent enough for these serious offenders, the adult system is far too harsh. Youthful offender status poses as an intermediate step.

Under existing law, a juvenile is charged as a youthful offender if he or she is aged 15, 16, or 17 and charged with one of the following crimes:

  • Second degree murder 
  • Kidnapping
  • First degree manslaughter 
  • Armed robbery or attempted armed robbery
  • First degree robbery or attempted first degree robbery
  • First degree rape or attempted first degree rape
  • Rape by instrumentation or attempted rape by instrumentation
  • Forcible sodomy, 
  • Lewd molestation, 
  • First degree arson or attempted first degree arson
  • Shooting with intent to kill or assault and battery with a deadly weapon

Additionally, a 16 or 17-year-old is certified as a youthful offender if charged with one of the following crimes:

  • First degree burglary or attempted first degree burglary
  • Second degree residential burglary after two or more prior convictions of first degree burglary or second degree residential burglary
  • Assault and battery on a state employee or contractor while in the custody or supervision of the Office of Juvenile Affairs
  • Aggravated assault and battery of a police officer
  • Intimidating a witness
  • Trafficking in or manufacturing illegal drugs
  • Assault and battery with a deadly weapon
  • Maiming
  • Second degree rape
  • Use of a firearm while in commission of a felony

SB 410, which was approved by state lawmakers but vetoed by the governor, would have added 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17-year-olds charged with being an accessory to first degree murder to those prosecuted as youthful offenders. Furthermore, a minor accused of being an accessory to any of the already-listed youthful offender crimes would also be prosecuted as a youthful offender. 

In her veto of the bill, Gov. Fallin said, "would dramatically increase the offenses punishable under the Youthful Offender Act, and have the likely effect of imprisoning more youth than ever before."

Future considerations for changes to the Oklahoma youthful offender law include limiting the accessory provisions to only those accused of being an accessory to first degree murder.

Image Credit: Romana Klee