If your criminal history is not spotless, the opportunity to clear your record may be critically important to you. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about expungements in Oklahoma, including what it means to seal the record, who is eligible for record expungement, and how the process takes place. Today we explore those misconceptions and debunk myths with facts about Oklahoma expungement.
Myth: Only convictions appear on criminal records, so if my case was dismissed, I have nothing to worry about.
FACT: Criminal records on file with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) and court records found on the Oklahoma State Courts Network case search website include not only criminal convictions, but also arrests, pending charges, and charges that were ultimately dismissed. It may be beneficial to you to have the record expunged even if the case against you was dismissed, because having your name associated with an arrest or suspicion of a crime can prejudice a prospective employer against you. In 22 O.S. § 18, Oklahoma outlines the eligibility requirements for expunging not only convictions, but arrest records, dismissed charges, and charges dismissed after completion of a deferred sentence.
Myth: Only misdemeanors can be expunged.
FACT: Misdemeanor convictions are not the only criminal convictions which can be sealed or cleared from a criminal record. Non-violent felonies are also eligible for expungement if certain criteria are met:
- The person was charged with a nonviolent felony offense, the charge was dismissed following the successful completion of a deferred judgment or delayed sentence, the person has never been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, no misdemeanor or felony charges are pending against the person, and at least ten (10) years have passed since the charge was dismissed;
- The person was convicted of a nonviolent felony offense, the person has received a full pardon for the offense, the person has not been convicted of any other felony, the person has not been convicted of a separate misdemeanor in the last fifteen (15) years, no felony or misdemeanor charges are pending against the person, and at least ten (10) years have passed since the felony conviction
Violent crimes listed in 57 O.S. § 571 are NOT eligible for expungement, unless the person has since been exonerated by a finding of actual innocence or the appellate court has reversed the conviction and ordered the lower court to dismiss the charge.
Myth: The conviction automatically "falls off" of my record after 5 (or 10 or 15) years if I stay out of trouble.
FACT: Criminal convictions are not automatically sealed or cleared from your record simply because sufficient time has passed without further incident. While a time limit may apply under certain eligibility conditions, other types of expungement are available that do not require a specified passage of time. Even if your eligibility does depend upon 10 years passing (as described in reference to nonviolent felony expungement above), the process is not automatic. Even when a charge is dismissed following successful completion of probation in a deferred sentence, the process of expungement under 22 O.S. § 991c is not necessarily automatic.
Myth: An expungement and a pardon are the same thing.
FACT: An expungement is the sealing of criminal records from public view. A pardon is formal acknowledgement by the governor that a person who was convicted of a crime has since paid his or her debt to society--a sort of official forgiveness. Expungement and pardon are not mutually exclusive. Talk to an attorney to find out whether you are eligible for expungement, pardon, both, or neither.
Myth: An expungement completely erases my criminal record from all databases.
FACT: The depth of concealment of your record depends upon the type of expungement you receive. A Section 991c expungement after a deferred sentence dismisses the charge and strikes your name from court records, but leaves the OSBI criminal record intact. A Section 18/19 expungement is more thorough. However, in most cases the record is still available to law enforcement. In some cases, a court order is required to view the records, but not always.
Myth: An expungement won't do me any good, since I still have to admit on employment applications that I was previously convicted of a felony.
FACT: Under Oklahoma law, once a record has been expunged under Section 18/19, you do not have to disclose the conviction. In fact, it is "deemed never to have occurred," and the person whose record is expunged is legally able to state that "no such action ever occurred and that no such record exists with respect to such person."