COMMITTEE approves criminal code revisions

Tuesday, May 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A legislative committee approved criminal code revisions that would stiffen the penalties for some offenses and raise the felony threshold on property crimes from $50 to $500.

Writing bogus checks and embezzlement would be a felony if they amount to more than $500 under legislation approved Monday in the Senate General Conference Committee on Appropriations.

``It's only the second time since 1907 that the felony limit has been raised on property crimes,'' state Sen. Dick Wilkerson, D-Atwood, said Monday.

Oklahoma's retail merchants have in past years successfully fought attempts to raise the felony limit on writing hot checks, but Wilkerson said they won't be hurt by the legislation.

The misdemeanor penalty for writing a bogus check of less than $500 is one year in jail, he said. The bill also would increase by $25 the payments to victims of bogus checks and raise by $25 the payment to district attorneys who prosecute these cases.

The Oklahoma District Attorneys Association supports the legislation, association Executive Director Suzanne McClain Atwood said.

The measure also allows a merchant to collect triple damages for a victim of a theft such as shoplifting, Wilkerson said.

The legislation adds seven more violent crimes for which offenders must serve 85 percent of their sentences to present law.

Second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, poisoning with intent to kill, shooting with intent to kill, assault with intent to kill, first-degree robbery and robbery committed by two or more persons now join murder and rape on the list.

By adding more crimes to the list, Oklahoma will get another $4 million annually in federal funds for housing violent criminals, said Wilkerson, the author of Senate Bill 397.

The legislation also changes the blood alcohol content for driving under the influence from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent.

In addition, the bill would allow law officers to arrest youngsters who have told their classmates they plan to kill someone in their school, Wilkerson said. The measure would help law enforcement officers investigate threats made by school children. Someone making a verbal threat cannot be arrested now unless the threat is made over the telephone.

Planning, attempting, conspiring or endeavoring to perform an act of violence involving serious bodily harm or death also would be a felony, with a possible prison term of up to 10 years.

The state's prison cap law would be repealed under the bill if it becomes law. The cap law now requires a governor to release inmates when the prison population reaches a certain level.

``It's time we look and do what we said we'd do: lock those people up we're afraid of and not those who we're mad at,'' Wilkerson said.

Sen. Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, called it the ``sleeper bill of the session.''''

``It will make a difference,'' Hobson said.