The ACLU of Oklahoma represents Tondalao Hall, an Oklahoma mother and domestic violence survivor sentenced to 30 years in prison for failing to protect two of her children from her abusive partner. In June of 2017, the ACLU began a new legal effort to free Tondalao.
At 20 years old Tondalao was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “failure to protect” her children from physical abuse committed by their father, Robert Braxton, who also abused Tondalao. Braxton pled guilty to abusing the children and was given 8 years of probation and released the day of his sentencing. Tondalao, however, has remained in prison for over a decade and has up to 20 more years left to serve.
Tondalao has remained behind bars for failing to stop her abuser’s crimes, torn from her family and deprived of the opportunity to see her young children grow. This new case will be an opportunity for the justice system to right a wrong and to grant Tondalao the freedom that has been withheld for over a decade. The excessive and disproportionate sentence that has already taken a decade of life from Tondalao and her family and threatens to take another 20 years, exemplifies a grave injustice that is too often the only justice realized by women and by women of color in particular.
Tondalao has previously appealed her case and lost. She has issued a request to modify her excessive sentence that was later denied, and Tondalao will not be eligible for release on parole until 2030. ACLU of Oklahoma has filed a state Habeas Corpus Petition on Tondalao’s behalf. This type of action is known as an Extraordinary Writ, designed to correct an injustice when all other means have failed.
Statistics show that domestic homicide and severe peaks in violence occur most often when a victim attempts to leave a relationship. Nationwide, three-quarters of all domestic homicides occur after a victim attempts to separate from her abusive partner. When used in circumstances like this ‘Failure to Protect’ laws penalize victims for their abuser's crimes, and push victims into risky actions at the most dangerous point in their relationships. The imprudent sentences given under such laws demonstrate a tragic lack of appreciation for the realities lived by vulnerable individuals, who often live in fear without the tools necessary to keep themselves or their family safe while leaving an abusive partner.

A judge in Pottawatomie County dismissed the ACLU’s first petition, but this fight is far from over.​ Navigating the law through courts, simply put, is a tedious process and procedure is important. While we knew this dismissal was a possibility, it was the right way to begin this process. This dismissal is not a loss for Tondalao. Rather it is a necessary step in what we knew would be a long journey through the legal system. A post-conviction application will be filed in Oklahoma County. Tondalao and her attorneys remain hopeful that a more just future is possible.