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What is the Difference Between Expungement and Pardon?


When you have a criminal conviction, the record of your offense can make it problematic to find a job, gain admission to a college or university, enter the military, secure a financial loan, or obtain a housing lease. Your criminal history may show up not only in employment background checks, but also in records checks by nosy neighbors who want to know everyone else's business. When your criminal past causes problems in the present, you likely want to find the quickest and easiest way to clear your record so you can move forward with your life unfettered by a crime whose legal debt has been paid.

If you have a criminal record that you want sealed or erased, it is important that you understand the options available to you. When it comes to expungements and pardons, many people do not know the difference between the two, and they do not know which one they should pursue and why they should pursue it.

In their simplest terms, an expungement seals a criminal record, and a pardon is executive forgiveness for the offense. 

There are two types of record expungement in Oklahoma. A Section 991(c) expungement, seals a court record after a deferred sentence and changes the court disposition to read that the defendant pleaded not guilty and the case was dismissed. A Section 18/19 expungement seals both the court record and the arrest record on file with the OSBI. A Section 18/19 expungement is much preferred because it seals all records, essentially erasing the crime. In fact, 22 O.S. § 19(d) says, "Upon the entry of an order to seal the records, or any part thereof, the subject official actions shall be deemed never to have occurred, and the person in interest and all criminal justice agencies may properly reply, upon any inquiry in the matter, that no such action ever occurred and that no such record exists with respect to such person." Unfortunately for many people convicted of crimes in Oklahoma, this type of expungement is much more difficult to obtain, and the petitioner must meet strictly defined criteria in order to be eligible.

A pardon, on the other hand, does not clear, seal, or erase a criminal record. In fact, on its own, a pardon does not affect the criminal record in any way. Rather, a pardon is a way of obtaining official recognition from the governor that the applicant has turned his or her life around. While the criminal conviction will still show up on an employment background check, the person applying will at least be able to say that he or she has been pardoned by the Governor of Oklahoma upon recommendation from the state Pardon and Parole Board.

However, expungement and pardon are not mutually exclusive. In fact, obtaining a pardon can help a person obtain a Section 18/19 expungement. If a person was convicted of an offense committed before he or she turned 18 or convicted of a nonviolent felony, a pardon from the governor will make him or her eligible for record expungement.

If you have questions about pardon or expungement eligibility, procedures, and representation, call 405-778-4800 to schedule a consultation with an experienced Oklahoma expungement lawyer or click here to submit an online case review form.

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