Jamie Banzet is no stranger to the court system.
In 2003, at the age of 19, she was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana.
Today, she’s a ward of the state. She’s serving real time in Jess Dunn Correctional Center in Taft.
Her parents, Larry and Carla Banzet, are hoping an upcoming Friday date in Judge Dwayne Steidley’s courtroom will give Jamie another chance at freedom — another chance to right her life.
But, the price for this last ditch opportunity for Jamie has been high — not only for her, but for her family.
Larry Banzet believes he lost his job at a local tire shop because of his outspoken criticism of the system that now holds his daughter. He also believes his family will spend as much as $30,000 in court costs and attorney’s fees in what he has labeled his pursuit of “Justice 4 Jamie”
He believes it’s just the way the court system works in Rogers County — right or wrong.
In fact, the family’s comments following last Friday’s appearance before Judge Steidley were limited. Limited by the advice of attorney Bill Higgins regarding the proceedings of the case. Larry said attorney Higgins (who he hired to represent Jamie) has also warned him not to take part in a second “We the People” march Thursday at the Courthouse in which protesters are expected to continue their call for a county grand jury pursuing cases like Jamie’s.
The march (the second one in four months) is headed by self-proclaimed justice activist Stephen Hager. The Banzets said Friday that Hager does not speak for them. Hager agrees, but has not removed the Banzet case from his long list of what he calls “oversights” by Rogers County government.
At last Friday’s hearing, Jamie’s mother Carla, was seen asking Hager to leave them alone, saying, “stay out of it.” She stated he has nothing to do with Jamie’s case and that all information concerning Jamie should be taken from the family.
The road that led the now 22-year-old, Jamie, to state lock-up began in 2003 when she was arrested beginning in June with her last arrest in December 2003.
Her first offense was a misdemeanor charge of obtaining merchandise by bogus check. Two other misdemeanor cases — unlawful possession of marijuana, and driving under the influence and possession of marijuana — followed with each resulting in deferred sentences handed down in 2004 requiring Jamie to serve probation. As a condition of probation, Jamie was to remain successful in Drug Court, which she was accepted into in May 2004.
However, Jamie was arrested and charged in three felony cases during 2003 as well. The charges: Burglary of a safe, second degree forgery and four counts of uttering a forged instrument. Because she was at such a young age, then 20, she was placed in the Delayed Sentencing Program for Young Adults. As part of the sentencing program, Jamie was to spend 120 days in Regimented Inmate Discipline (RID) beginning in January 2004. Her formal sentencing date, based on her guilty plea she made in all there felony cases, was scheduled for April 2004.
Her successful completion of RID could have resulted in an opportunity to walk out of the court system without a felony record.
But that’s not what happen.
Instead, her then attorney asked for admittance to Drug Court and through a series of events involving her Drug Court sentence, she found herself sitting in Judge Erin O’Quin courtroom protesting a Drug Court sanction in September 2006. The result landed her in DOC custody. Not exactly what she expected. Not what her parents expected.
Jamie has been in prison since September 2006 after she was sanctioned for allegedly violating Drug Court rules as documented by court records. According to those felony records, a hearing was held regarding the violations, evidence was presented, testimony was taken, and Judge O’Quin handed down the full sentence of five years in prison.
The Banzet family took their concerns regarding Jamie’s run-in with the court system public last fall. Her father joined justice activist Hager in a public protest at the courthouse. He even attached a poster board sign to the rear of his vehicle stating his plight for his daughter, which he says led to his dismissal from his last employer.
Jamie appeared in court in December to withdraw her plea of guilty she submitted through Drug Court on three separate felony cases against her. That hearing was continued to last Thursday to allow both defense attorney Bill Higgins and the state an opportunity to argue the case concerning the withdrawal.
However, instead of conducting a hearing, Judge Dwayne Steidley issued an order setting aside Banzet’s admittance to drug court, vacating all proceedings involved in that court and setting sentencing on Banzet’s guilty plea she initially made in order to enter drug court.
The question before Judge Steidley concerning these cases was whether a sentence was required for Banzet after she began the Delayed Sentencing Program for Young Adults. In the motion filed by the defense for the withdrawal of the plea, Higgins stated Banzet’s placement in Drug Court was not authorized and asked that the cases either be dismissed or a new plea to be taken.
As per Drug Court rules, Banzet was told, according to records, that upon successful completion of Drug Court, the charges she faced would be dismissed. However, if she was not successful, Banzet was told she would receive five years in prison.
In reviewing the statute dealing with the Delayed Sentencing program, Judge Steidley pointed out that upon Banzet’s return from RID as part of the Delayed Sentencing program, the court was bound to follow the five options if the original plea of guilty was still accepted. The options include: A deferred judgment; a sentence in the department of corrections, a suspended sentence that includes probation, community sentencing; or the dismissal of charges.
Although Banzet was allowed to enter Drug Court, Judge Steidley ruled that option was unauthorized by law under the Delayed Sentencing program. Now the judge said he will conduct sentencing of Banzet based on the options set forth by the Delayed Sentencing statute.
The judge added that he will not allow Banzet to withdraw her guilty plea in the outstanding cases.
In connection with last week’s postponed hearing, Banzet’s father, Larry Banzet, said the family was given hope, with conditions.
Larry Banzet said the state is willing to reconsider his daughter’s current sentence at the upcoming hearing this week if he keeps a low profile.
He’s not supposed to share particulars of close-door court proceedings with the press, which he hasn’t. He most likely won’t be seen driving around with sign in his pickup protesting the County judicial system, and he probably won’t be walking the picket line on the Courthouse square.
“I won’t do anything to jeopardize the outcome of my daughter’s cases,” Larry said.
Jamie Banzet’s attorney, hired by her father, along with her family are slated to appear in Judge Steidley’s courtroom at 9:30 p.m. Friday.
Jamie is scheduled to be transported to Rogers County for her hearing before Steidley.