Legislation to help criminalized survivors get justice filed in Oklahoma

Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 02/18/2023, 7:35 PM
Edited: 02/20/2023, 4:52 AM

(OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.) Oklahoma is one step closer to easing the sentencing of survivors of violence following the filing of HB1639, now known as the Oklahoma Domestic Abuse Survivorship Act.

The language of the two-pronged bill, authored and introduced by Rep. Toni Hasenbeck (R-Elgin) on January 18, was updated on Friday.

On the front end, it would allow a survivor to enter into a lesser sentencing range when evidence of abuse has been substantiated. 

On the back end, it would allow people who have already been sentenced to prison to be resentenced when evidence of abuse has been substantiated. 

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The bill also states that “No matter the range for the offense, a defendant providing mitigation evidence under this section shall not receive a sentence longer than ten (10) years.” 

The Oklahoma bill is the result of local, regional, and national research into the issue of criminalized survivorship, spearheaded locally by a group called OK Survivor Justice Coalition

The coalition is made up of multiple organizations including Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, who recently began representing April Wilkens, the top criminalized survivorship story listed on the coalition’s website. Wilkens’ new legal team filed an application for post-conviction relief in September of last year.  

Wilkens has served more than two decades of a life sentence at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center for killing her rapist and abuser, Terry Carlton. 

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler responded saying the case was fit for dismissal despite physical evidence showing Wilkens was beaten and sexually harmed by her ex-fiancé, and that “the jury heard so much testimony and evidence of how Petitioner was treated by Carlton and still found her guilty of Murder in the First Degree”. 

After Wilkens’ lawyer failed to represent her adequately during trial, Wilkens attempted to appeal her own case multiple times, and was eventually barred from bringing up her ineffective counsel or excluded key evidence again. 

Related story: Two decades later, a woman sentenced to life for killing her abuser still fights for freedom

Wilken’s attorneys Leslie Briggs and Colleen McCarty of Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice filed an appeal of the order denying Wilkens’ application for post-conviction relief earlier this month. 

Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the group Free Aprils Wilkens are holding an event to support survivor justice in Oklahoma on Monday, February 27, called “Survivor Justice Day at the Oklahoma Capitol”.  They plan to meet from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Supreme Court Hallway.


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