O'Connor v. Okla. State Conference of the NAACP, CQ-2022-418

CourtUnited States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma
Writing for the CourtROWLAND, PRESIDING JUDGE
PartiesJOHN M. O'CONNOR, in his official capacity as Oklahoma Attorney General; DAVID PRATER, in his official capacity as District Attorney of Oklahoma County, Appellant - Defendants, v. OKLAHOMA STATE CONFERENCE OF THE NAACP, Appellee - Plaintiff.
Docket NumberCQ-2022-418
Decision Date25 August 2022

2022 OK CR 21

JOHN M. O'CONNOR, in his official capacity as Oklahoma Attorney General; DAVID PRATER, in his official capacity as District Attorney of Oklahoma County, Appellant - Defendants,
v.

OKLAHOMA STATE CONFERENCE OF THE NAACP, Appellee - Plaintiff.

No. CQ-2022-418

Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma

August 25, 2022


CERTIFIED QUESTIONS OF LAW FROM THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT, THE HONORABLE CAROLYN B. MCHUGH, CIRCUIT JUDGE

APPEARANCES FOR APPELLANTS - DEFENDANTS

MITHUN MANSINGHANI

SOLICITOR GENERAL

ANDY N. FERGUSON

ZACHARY PAUL WEST

ASSISTANT SOLICITORS GENERAL

OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA -- LITIGATION DEPARTMENT

APPEARANCES FOR APPELLEE -- PLAINTIFF

BENJAMIN ADAM GIFFORD

MARY B. MCCORD

JOSEPH W. MEAD

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER

INSTITUTE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL ADVOCACY AND PROTECTION

OPINION ANSWERING CERTIFIED QUESTIONS OF LAW

ROWLAND, PRESIDING JUDGE

¶1 Before the Court is an Order from The Honorable Carolyn B. McHugh, Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, certifying the following questions of law:

1. Does Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 1312(5) apply only to individuals who are guilty of participating in a riot and who unlawfully obstruct a roadway while participating in such riot
2. Does Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 1320.12 impose liability only on organizations that have been found guilty of conspiring with others to violate one of Oklahoma's specifically enumerated anti-riot laws

¶2 This Court has authority to respond to such requests from the federal court pursuant to the Uniform Certification of Questions of Law Act. 20 O.S.2011, § 1601. See also Moore v. Gibson, 2001 OK CR 8, ¶ 6, 27 P.3d 483, 485 ("This Court has the power to give the present state of the law as well as use the opportunity to create new precedents in answering a certified question of law."). We accept the certified questions as presented and answer both in the affirmative.

1. BACKGROUND

¶3 During the 2021 First Regular Session, the Oklahoma Legislature enacted House Bill 1674, amending, in Section 1, 21 O.S.2011, § 1312 and enacting, in Section 3, new law codified at 21 O.S.Supp.2021, § 1320.12. Before the effective date of this legislation on November 1, 2021, Appellees instituted a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, challenging Sections 1 and 3 of House Bill 1674 on constitutional grounds.

¶4 Section 1, now at 21 O.S.Supp.2021, § 1312 (5), provides that anyone who unlawfully obstructs the normal use of any public street, highway, or road may be punished by up to a year in jail and/or a fine. It also imposes liability for all damage to person or property resulting from such obstructing. Section 3, now at 21 O.S.Supp.2021, § 1320.12, imposes substantial fines for any organization found to be a conspirator with persons violating several enumerated sections of Title 21, generally having to do with riots, routs, or unlawful assemblies.

2. DISCUSSION

¶5 In determining whether these two challenged provisions apply only to individuals or organizations otherwise engaged in riot-related violations of the law, we employ familiar rules of statutory construction. Our ultimate goal is to determine the intent of the Legislature and to interpret the statutes in accord therewith. State v. Silas, 2020 OK CR 10, § 6, 470 P.3d 339, 341; Lozoya v. State, 1996 OK CR 55, ¶ 17, 932 P.2d 22, 28. Whenever possible, we rely upon the plain and ordinary meaning of the statutory language. Silas, 2020 OK CR 10, § 6, 470 P.3d at 341. Newlun v. State, 2015 OK CR 7, ¶ 8, 348 P.3d 209, 211. We will also look to each part of the statute in question and other statutes on related subjects. Landrum v. State, 96 Okla.Crim.App. 356, 359, 255 P.2d 525, 529 (1953). In deference to our sister branch of government, wherever possible we interpret statutes so as to avoid constitutional issues, Weeks v. State, 2015 OK CR 16, ¶ 17, 362 P.3d 650, 654, and we avoid any construction which would render any legislative act vain or superfluous. Vilandre v. State, 2005 OK CR 9, ¶ 5, 113 P.3d 893, 896. See also State v. District Court of Oklahoma County, 2007 OK CR 3, ¶ 17, 154 P.3d 84, 87, Byrd v. Caswell, 2001 OK CR 29, ¶ 6, 34 P.3d 647, 648-49.

¶6 With these principles in mind, we turn to the questions presented.

A. Section 1 of House Bill 1674/ 21 O.S.Supp.2021, § 1312

¶7 Title 21 O.S.Supp.2021, § 1312 reads, "Every person guilty of participating in any riot is punishable as follows...." It then sets forth five paragraphs listing punishments depending upon the specific circumstances. For instance, the highest punishment, in Section 1312(1), is reserved for those participating in a riot where a murder, maiming, robbery, rape, or arson is committed. Section 1 of House Bill 1674, the first of two provisions challenged in this litigation, added 1312(5), which provides:

Every person who shall unlawfully obstruct the normal use of any public street, highway or road within this state by impeding, hindering or restraining motor vehicle traffic or passage thereon, by standing or approaching motor vehicles thereon, or by endangering the safe movement of motor vehicles or pedestrians traveling thereon shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not exceeding one (1) year, or by a fine of not less than One Hundred
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