To begin, let's clarify the concept of an expungement. In Oklahoma, expungement refers to the legal process of sealing a criminal record. While the records are not physically destroyed, public access is limited, rendering the information invisible to most individuals and institutions. This process is vital in allowing individuals to move forward without the burden of a criminal history.
The significance of expunging a criminal record cannot be overstated, particularly when pursuing employment, securing housing, and accessing other opportunities. A criminal record can have far-reaching consequences, as it can be a significant obstacle in someone's life.
The following sections will delve deeper into expunging a criminal record in Oklahoma, exploring the eligibility criteria, the necessary steps involved, and the potential benefits that await those who successfully obtain an expungement.
Eligibility for Expungement in Oklahoma
Understanding the specific requirements that must be met to proceed with the expungement process and leave a criminal past behind is essential.
Individuals who fall into specific categories can file a petition for expungement. These categories include:
- Those who were acquitted, meaning they were found not guilty of the charges brought against them
- Individuals who had their conviction reversed with instructions to dismiss by an appellate court
- Those who were found factually innocent because of DNA evidence, providing compelling proof that they were wrongfully accused or convicted
- Individuals who received a full pardon from the Governor
- Those who were arrested but had no charges filed against them, and either the statute of limitations has passed or the prosecutor has decided not to file charges
- Individuals under 18 years of age at the time of the offense and have received a full pardon
- Those who were charged with one or more misdemeanors or felonies, had the charges dismissed, have never been convicted of a felony, are not currently facing misdemeanor or felony prosecution, and the statute of limitations to file charges has passed or the prosecution decided not to file charges
- Individuals who completed deferred judgment following a misdemeanor conviction, have no previous felony convictions, have no current charges pending, and have waited at least 1 year since their charge was dismissed
- Those who completed deferred judgment following a non-violent felony conviction, have no previous felony convictions, have no current charges pending, and have waited at least 5 years since their charge was dismissed
- Individuals who were convicted of a misdemeanor, sentenced to a fine of less than $501 (without incarceration or suspended sentence), have satisfied all financial obligations, have no previous felony convictions, and have no current charges pending against them
These are just a few examples of expungement eligibility criteria. However, it's important to note that some exceptions exist. Certain violent crimes, such as first-degree murder, manslaughter, assault with intent to kill, and first-degree arson, cannot be expunged. The same goes for offenses requiring registration as a sex offender.
The Expungement Process
Now that we have discussed the eligibility criteria, let's explore the process of filing a petition for expungement. Understanding the steps involved and the necessary documentation required to initiate the expungement process successfully is essential.
Filing the Petition
To begin, individuals must gather essential documents related to their case. The paperwork may include court records, arrest records, conviction records, and any other relevant documentation that supports your eligibility for expungement. Having up-to-date information to present to the court is crucial.
The next step is to file the documents with the appropriate court. The petition is typically submitted to the district court where the offense information is held.
Waiting Period and Hearing
Once the court receives the petition, it will schedule a hearing to review the case. The court must provide a 30-day notice of the hearing to anyone interested in the case, such as prosecuting or arresting agencies. The notice ensures that all relevant parties can be present and voice objections or concerns regarding the expungement.
At the hearing, the judge will carefully review the information presented in the petition and consider any objections from interested parties. The judge determines whether the harm to the individual’s privacy and unwarranted dangers because of the criminal record outweigh the public interest in retaining the arrest or conviction information.
Automatic Expungement of Some Criminal Records
In a significant development for individuals seeking to clear their criminal records in Oklahoma, the state passed the Clean Slate Bill on May 2, 2022. This bill introduced an automatic record-clearing process for many misdemeanor offenses, offering a potential fresh start for individuals with certain eligible convictions.
Under the new law, certain misdemeanor offenses will be automatically expunged without requiring individuals to file a petition. The automatic expungement provisions do not apply to all crimes. The legislation outlines specific criteria and limitations determining which records are eligible for automatic expungement.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) will identify eligible cases monthly to facilitate the automatic expungement process. It will review the records and determine if they meet the criteria outlined in the Clean Slate Bill. This systematic approach aims to streamline the expungement process and provide relief for qualified individuals.
The prosecuting agency, OSBI, or arresting agency can object to automatic expungement if, after a review, it determines that the case does not meet the eligibility criteria. Objections can be raised if the individual has not fulfilled court-ordered restitution or if there is a reasonable belief that the person continues to engage in criminal activity.
In cases where automatic expungement has not occurred, individuals still have the option to petition the court for traditional expungement.
Effects of Expungement
One of the key benefits of expungement is being able to lawfully state that the individual was not convicted of the sealed offense. In the eyes of the law, the expunged crime shall be deemed never to have occurred, as stated in 22 O.S. § 19(G). This provides a tremendous advantage regarding employment, housing, and other opportunities where a clean record is highly valued.
Expungement also provides certain legal protections for individuals. Employers, educational institutions, and state and local government agencies are prohibited from requiring applicants to disclose information related to an expunged and sealed offense.
Still, limitations exist. While the record is sealed from public access, the court may release the information to certain government agencies, such as the Attorney General's office or a prosecuting agency. These entities may have legitimate reasons to request the records in certain circumstances.
A Lawyer Can Help Seek to Have Your Record Cleared
To navigate the complexities of the expungement process effectively, consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. They can provide tailored guidance based on your unique situation, ensuring that you meet the requirements and present a compelling case for expungement.
Schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Keith J. Nedwick, P.C. by contacting our Norman, OK, team at (866) 590-8173.