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February 21, 2011

"How $31 of pot gave mom a 10-year-prison sentence"

The title of this post is the headline of this very interesting local sentencing story out of Oklahoma. Here are the details:

On Dec. 31, 2009, [25-year-old Patricia Marilyn] Spottedcrow and her mother, Delita Starr, 50, sold a “dime bag” of marijuana to a police informant at Starr's home in Kingfisher, court records state.  Starr handled the transaction and asked her 9-year-old grandson — Spottedcrow's son — for some dollar bills to make change for the $11 sale.  Two weeks later, the same informant returned and bought $20 of marijuana from Spottedcrow.

The two women were arrested for drug distribution and because Spottedcrow's children were in the home, an additional charge of possession of a dangerous substance in the presence of a minor was added.  “It just seemed like easy money,” said Spottedcrow, who says she is not a drug user but has smoked marijuana.  “I thought we could get some extra money.  I've lost everything because of it.”

The women were each offered plea deals of two years in prison.  But because neither had prior convictions and the drug amounts were low, they gambled and entered a guilty plea before a judge with no prior sentencing agreement.

Starr received a 30-year suspended sentence with no incarceration, but five years of drug and alcohol assessments.  Spottedcrow was sentenced to 10 years in prison for distribution and two years for possession, to run concurrently.  She will be up for parole in 2014....  In addition, Starr was fined $8,600 and Spottedcrow $2,740.  “Never in a million years did I think I'd be here 10 years,” Spottedcrow said of prison.  “We were under the impression we would get probation...."

Former Kingfisher County Judge Susie Pritchett, who retired in December, said the women were conducting “an extensive operation” and included children in the business.  “It was a way of life for them,” Pritchett said.  “Considering these circumstances, I thought it was lenient.  By not putting the grandmother in prison, she is able to help take care of the children.”

A presentencing investigative report prepared by the Department of Corrections rated Spottedcrow's risk of re-offending as “high” and recommended substance abuse treatment while incarcerated.  “It does not appear the defendant is aware that a problem exists or that she needs to make changes in her current behavior.”

Spottedcrow was unemployed and without a stable residence when arrested, the report states.  The family lost their Oklahoma City home for not paying bills.  “When she needed money … this is the avenue she chose rather than finding legitimate employment,” the report states.  “The defendant does not appear remorseful … and she makes justifications for her actions.”

Pritchett said on first drug offenses, sentences are usually suspended and may require treatment or random drug tests.  Only if there are other more serious circumstances is a first-time drug offender sent to prison, she said.  “When kids are involved, it's different,” Pritchett said.

“This was a drug sale.  When I look at someone in front of me, I'm thinking, ‘What is it going to take to rehabilitate this person?'  We look at their attitude and other factors.” When Spottedcrow was taken to jail after her sentencing, she had marijuana in her jacket.  She pleaded guilty to that additional charge Jan. 24 and was sentenced to two years in prison and fined nearly $1,300.  That sentence also will run concurrent with her other conviction....

Oklahoma's two prisons for women — the maximum-security Mabel Bassett in McLoud and minimum-security Eddie Warrior in Taft — housed 2,622 prisoners last year.  Of those, 48 percent are serving time for nonviolent drug offenses and 22 percent for other nonviolent offenses such as embezzlement and forgery.  Of the 1,393 women received by Oklahoma prisons last year, 78 percent were identified by DOC as minimal public safety threats.  Most nonviolent offenders are housed at Eddie Warrior, an open campus with a walking track and six dormitories.

Spottedcrow knows she will need to find a new job skill because her work in the health field won't be there because of her incarceration.  She would like to open a boutique. “Even though this seems like the worst thing … I've been blessed along the way,” she said. “It could have been worse.  I'm happy my kids are safe and, ultimately, I'm safe.  I'm thankful I still have a family.”

In a year, Spottedcrow will have a review and hopes to shorten her time in prison. “I'm already changed,” she said.  “This is a real eye-opener. I'm going to get out of here, be with my kids and live my life.”

There are soooooo many interesting elements to this story, I could imagine teaching an entire sentencing course with this case as the focal point.  Big ticket modern sentencing issues including the war on drugs, plea practices, the importance of presentence reports, state sentencing discretion and disparities, the purpose of imprisonment terms and parole practices are all in sharp relief in this little story, and all of these issues in this case are impacted (both obvious and not-so-obviously) by race, gender and socio-economic realities.  Amazing stuff.

February 21, 2011 at 04:05 PM | Permalink


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"'It just seemed like easy money,' said Spottedcrow."

The basic problem gets summed up in six words. Thank you, Ms. Spottedcrow.

The basic solution? Get a normal job and stop thinking the problem lies with everyone but you.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 21, 2011 5:54:38 PM

Who does a blind plea in front of Pritchett? You have got to know your judges folks. Thus is rule one of sentencing.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 21, 2011 11:25:05 PM

Hey Doug - easily missed here are the collateral licensing consequences of this conviction. Penultimate quoted paragraph indicates that she's also lost her legit livelihood.

Posted by: Gray Proctor | Feb 22, 2011 12:54:35 AM

Bill you are such a prosecutor. You point out the negative about the defendant's lack of judgement, but you have no comment on the brainless waste of life and resources that resulted from the judge's(and apparently the presentence report writer's) lack of judgment. Holding people accountable doesnt mean that the maximum penalty is always appropriate. A prosecutor sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.


Posted by: KRG def attny | Feb 22, 2011 11:25:27 AM

KRG --

"Bill you are such a prosecutor."

Actually, I haven't been a prosecutor for more than a decade. But I plead guilty to believing, as I did before I became a prosecutor and afterward, that people are responsible for the decisions they make about how they live.

"Holding people accountable doesnt mean that the maximum penalty is always appropriate."

Of course I didn't say it was appropriate, in this case or generally. Unlike death penalty abolitionists, for example, I am sometimes for the max and sometimes not.

"A prosecutor sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest."

I see what's there. It was the defendant, not me, who said, quite revealingly, that she was dealing because it was "easy money." It was refreshing to see a defendant blandly admit what so many defense-oriented types on this site quite often deny or ignore. She's not Jean Valjean. She just wants money without having to work for it.

As for disregarding the rest, it was a 100% certainty that others here would start tooting the horn for the defense side. To say that there was no need for me to do it is a big understatement.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 22, 2011 11:59:45 AM

She's not Jean Valjean????? $31 is barely enough to buy a meal for a family of four at Jack in the Box.
meh, let them eat cake from the food pantry. That's easiER.

Posted by: Jo | Feb 22, 2011 6:50:40 PM

Jo --

You can't possibly be that stupid. Small sales, done enough times, can make the merchant rich, and thousands if not millions of people have become rich in exactly that way.

Oh, and you wanna tell me where Jean Valjean said, "It just seemed like easy money"?

As I said, you can't possibly be this stupid.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 22, 2011 9:36:18 PM

Caning. Cheap, fair, memorable to the criminal. Caning should be enacted for 1 and 2 of 123D. Synonym for 123D? The 3 B's. Two beatings and a bullet.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 23, 2011 6:42:28 AM

At the very least, Jean Valjean wanted easy bread. He didn't have a normal job, either. And of course he was responsible for the decisions he made about how he lived. So let's not let him off too easily, Bill.

Of course I'm not saying Valjean's punishment was appropriate. I'm just saying we should leave it to others here to toot the horn for the defense side. So we can disregard the rest.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Feb 23, 2011 7:11:53 AM

Michael Drake --

You can disregard anything you wish, and when it comes to the greed that is the basic motivation of most property crime, you do.

You can also try to palm off Ms. Easy Money here as Jean Valjean -- he of the "easy bread," as you comically put it. Good luck with that one too.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 24, 2011 1:47:18 PM

You can't possibly be that arrogant. Oh yeah, you are a former prosecutor, let the name calling begin.

Posted by: Jo | Feb 25, 2011 12:22:09 PM

Jo --

You want argument instead of name-calling? Fine. My part of the argument -- unrefuted and indeed unmentioned by you -- was to point out that small sales, done enough times, can make the merchant rich, and thousands if not millions of people have become rich in exactly that way. This being the case, there is nothing left to your proposition that $31 from two sales out of God-knows-how-many renders this defendant the destitute equivalent of Jean Valjean.

Now let the excuse-making begin.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 26, 2011 6:24:20 PM

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