The term ‘cattle rustlers’ may draw up images of the Old West, but in today’s Oklahoma, it is still a very prevalent crime. Most recently, in February of 2019, a woman and her son were the victims of the theft of more than 100 head of cattle worth at least $130,000. For Debby Ringling, the co-owner of the cattle, her livelihood has been stolen from her and, unfortunately, she’s not the only one. Incidences of cattle theft have risen in the state for the past two years.
Cattle Theft in Oklahoma Laws
Cattle theft has been a problem in Oklahoma since at least 1910, when the first legal statute addressing the problem was written into law. The law has changed many times since then, most recently in 2016 when the Sooner State increased the penalties for cattle theft. When House Bill 2504 was passed with overwhelming support, it left those convicted of stealing cattle facing some very harsh sentences.
Today, stealing cattle is charged as a felony offense. If convicted, individuals can face anywhere between three to 10 years in prison. In addition, they are also required to pay a fine equal to three times the value of the livestock and machinery stolen. This fine though, cannot exceed $500,000.
There are several reasons for the steeper penalties. The first, of course, is that cattle theft is very different than the theft of an iPhone or other possession. First, ranchers earn a living from their cattle. Without it, they have no way to pay for mortgages on their ranch, and other living expenses. The price of cattle has also been rising in Oklahoma for the past several years, which is one of the main reasons the law was so recently amended.
The other reason for the heftier penalties is due to the fact that these crimes are likely to become violent if those stealing the cattle are caught in the act. The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) states that in just about every case, the majority of thieves caught were carrying loaded firearms. The crime of cattle theft is also often associated with drug crimes in the state.
Multiple Offenses, or Just One?
While cases like the one referenced above that involve huge numbers of livestock are rare, it’s just as rare for a person to steal just one head of cattle. Due to this, when the latest bill was first debated, proponents wanted to include provisions that a person charged could face one offense for every head of cattle stolen. However, that is not the case.
The language of the bill leaves the number of violations in the hands of the District Attorney’s office. While some may face only one charge for stealing multiple heads of cattle, others may face one count for each head they steal. The DA will consider factors such as a defendant’s prior criminal history when deciding on the number of charges to lay.
Contact an Oklahoma Theft Attorney to Help You Beat the Charges
Incidences of cattle theft may not happen every day in Oklahoma, but often, someone is accused of a theft they did not commit. When this is the case, individuals charged need to speak to an Oklahoma theft attorney who can help.
If you have been charged with a theft crime, contact Banks, Gillett, Gillett, PLLC at (405) 607-4800. Whether you have been charged with cattle theft or first-degree burglary, we will make sure you always understand all aspects of your case. We will conduct a thorough investigation to refute the prosecution’s evidence, and create an aggressive defense strategy for you. Call us today, or fill out our online form and we’ll begin reviewing your case.