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U.S. Supreme Court vacates Oklahoma woman's life sentence for shoplifting

The U.S. Supreme Court ordered a shoplifting case returned to an Oklahoma criminal appeals court.
BY TIM WILLERT Published: March 29, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court has vacated a life sentence for shoplifting being served by an Oklahoma City woman.

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the case of Cecilia Cathleen Rodriguez to be returned to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for further consideration in light of a recent ruling by justices who vacated a Missouri man's sentence because he did not receive adequate representation during the plea-bargain process.

Rodriguez, 59, was sentenced to life in prison in March 2009 after pleading guilty to grand larceny for stealing a $275 purse and a $380 purse from a Dillard's department store.

Oklahoma County District Court Judge Ray C. Elliott imposed the unusually long term after learning Rodriguez was a heroin addict who had been punished almost 30 other times for theft-related crimes dating to 1971.

At her sentencing, Elliott called Rodriguez a “one-person crime wave” and also revoked her probation on a 2000 larceny case, adding 17 years to her life term.

Oklahoma County prosecutors had offered Rodriguez 17 years in prison as part of a plea agreement, but the offer went unaccepted and she entered a blind plea.

Attorneys appealing Rodriguez's case argued the offer never was adequately conveyed to Rodriguez by her defense attorney.

Carolyn Merritt, the Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney who filed a petition for relief with the Supreme Court on Rodriguez's behalf, said Tuesday that she is entitled to have her case reconsidered.

“Cecilia does know about the court's decision and she is very pleased about it,” Merritt said. “I think it gives her another chance of getting relief from a life sentence.”

In the petition, Merritt argued that Rodriguez's plea was not entered into in a knowing, voluntary and intelligent manner because it was entered with inadvertence and without due deliberation.

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