House Bills Would Prohibit Jail for Inability to Pay Fines,
Seal Arrest Records of Victims of Mistaken Identity

OKLAHOMA CITY (31 January 2017) – No Oklahoman should be jailed for inability to pay a debt, and arrest records of anyone jailed “as a result of mistaken identity” should be sealed, a state legislator believes.

House Bill 1476 by Rep. George E. Young, Sr., declares that, “It is the policy of this state that no person shall be incarcerated for debt,” including a fine, cost, fee or assessment, that he/she is incapable of paying.

Debtors’ prisons were banned by federal law in 1833, and by U.S. Supreme Court decrees in 1970, 1971 and 1983. Nevertheless, many Oklahomans are behind bars today simply because they cannot afford to pay their fines and/or court fees, Young said.

For many of those people, the accumulated fines and fees amount to several thousand dollars, an Oklahoma Watch investigation showed.

“A lot of Oklahomans who are in jail are there because they were unable to pay some fee or fine,” Young said. “That is not what the record says; they are probably there for some violation connected to the cases.”

Another reason, he said, “is that the judiciary has been forced into making their budgetary needs meet their expenses on the backs of those who are least able to afford to pay. The Legislature has some blame in this, by failing to give our judicial system the funds it needs to operate. In the midst of our current budget deficit, we have to start somewhere, and a good place is to encourage all of our citizens to be part of the solution instead of forcing them to be part of the problem.”

Young, D-Oklahoma City, also filed House Bill 1479 to expunge arrest records of anyone jailed due to mistaken identity.

The bill defines “mistaken identity” as “the erroneous arrest of a person for a crime as a result of misidentification by a witness or law enforcement, confusion on the part of a witness or law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime, misinformation provided to law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime, or some other mistake on the part of a witness or law enforcement as to the identity of the person who committed the crime.”

The bill also defines “expungement” to mean sealing the aggrieved person’s criminal records “as well as any public civil record” arising from the “arrest, transaction or occurrence” blamed on mistaken identity.

Young’s measures are among 1,340 House bills that will be considered when the four-month annual legislative session starts in earnest on Feb. 6.



Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
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