Prosecutorial discretion makes Oklahoma’s justice system a roll of the dice
All Oklahomans must abide by the same laws. If you break the law, you’re sentenced according to the same statutes as everyone else. In theory, this should mean that people convicted of a crime in urban Tulsa County will receive a similar punishment to those in rural Cimarron County, and those on the eastern border in Sequoyah County will be treated the same as those on the western border in Harmon County.
In practice, however, prosecutors have nearly unchecked power to decide whether to bring criminal charges against people who are arrested, what to charge them with, and, consequently, how severely they’re punished. That means the same crime can result in a lengthy prison sentence or a lenient probation period, depending on the county and the prosecutor in charge of the case. While this power—called “prosecutorial discretion”—is meant to allow flexibility in differing circumstances from case to case, new research suggests that it has played a major role in the growth of incarceration across the country.