Everyone makes mistakes. Unfortunately, mistakes can sometimes haunt us for a very long time. A citizen of Oklahoma who has been charged with or convicted of a crime must meet certain requirements prescribed by law before his criminal record can be expunged. Before proceeding further, it should be noted that there are two kinds of "expungements" provided for under Oklahoma law. The first type of expungement is listed in 22 O.S. 991(c) and is for the sealing of COURT RECORDS upon the successful completion of a deferred sentence. Even when the court records are sealed, the criminal arrest record maintained by OSBI (that many employers reference when conducting background checks) will still reflect the incident.
The second type of expungement (and the focus of this blog post) provided for under Oklahoma law is the expungement of an offense from an individual's criminal arrest record. The requirements that one must meet before he is eligible for expungement of his criminal arrest record are spelled out in 22 O.S. §18. As mentioned in the title of this post, Oklahoma is "loosening" the requirements just a little bit. People who have made less serious mistakes will now be able clean up their record and get on with life sooner than they could before.
The first change to 22 O.S. §18 comes in subsection A(9) and concerns individuals charged with a nonviolent felony offense where the charge was dismissed due to the successful completion of a deferred sentence. Under current (but soon to be obsolete) law, these individuals must never have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony and must wait 10 years after the dismissal of charges before being eligible for expungement. Under the new law taking effect in November 2016, these same individuals must never have been convicted of a felony (the misdemeanor language has been dropped) and now must wait only 5 years after the dismissal of charges before being eligible for expungement.
Another major change concerns those individuals who have been convicted of a misdemeanor offense. Under current law (changing in November), all misdemeanor convictions are treated equally. The convicted individual must wait 10 years after the end of his sentence, not have been convicted of a felony, and have no felony or misdemeanor charges pending. Under the new law (taking effect in November), individuals convicted of misdemeanors are divided into two different groups.
The first group consists of people convicted of "lesser" misdemeanors. These people have been charged with a misdemeanor and fined in an amount less than $501.00, have not been sentenced to a term of imprisonment or suspended sentence, and have satisfied their fine by payment or by serving time in lieu of the fine, have not been convicted of a felony, and have no misdemeanor or felony charges pending. The people in this group are eligible for expungement of their criminal record IMMEDIATELY upon the satisfaction of their fine given that they have no felony convictions or charges pending against them.
Group two under the new law consists of people convicted of "greater" misdemeanors. These individuals have been convicted of a misdemeanor and have been fined more than $500.00, and have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment or suspended sentence. Individuals in this group must wait 5 years (still better than 10) after the completion of their sentence, and have no other felony convictions or pending misdemeanor or felony charges.
At the end of the day, Oklahoma legislators have realized that not all mistakes are equal and have written the new law to let people convicted of less serious offenses make a quicker recovery. When people are given the chance to learn from their mistakes and get on with their lives more quickly, they are less likely to lose hope and begin a downward spiral. This is a big step forward for Oklahoma.