If you have been convicted of a crime, there are plenty of reasons you might want your arrest and conviction kept private. Potential employers and landlords frequently review criminal background checks, and an old conviction could cost you the employment or housing of your dreams. Thankfully, in certain circumstances, Oklahoma law allows you to expunge your criminal record.
Generally speaking, an expungement seals the records of your arrest and conviction. The question of who will still have access to your complete criminal history will depend on the type of expungement you are granted. Oklahoma has two different expungement statutes: Section 18 expungements and Section 991(c) expungements.
Section 18 vs. Section 991(c) Expungements
The legal and practical effects of a Section 18 expungement and a Section 991(c) expungement are not the same. Section 991(c) expungements apply in fewer circumstances, they leave traces of your criminal case visible to the public, and they are only available to you if you received a deferred sentence as part of your plea agreement. Even if you met the conditions of your plea, under Section 991(c), your guilty plea will merely be changed to “pled not guilty, case dismissed.” While this is of some help because it removes the conviction from your record, it doesn't erase all traces of your case -- the record of your arrest and criminal charge(s) will remain.
Section 18 expungements are broader than Section 991(c) expungements. Also known as “full expungements,” a Section 18 expungement will erase your court records and seal your file with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI).
What happens to my criminal record with a Section 18 expungement?
While a full expungement will wipe away your conviction in most cases, there will still be some people that can access your arrest and conviction records post-expungement. But before that happens, you must qualify for a Section 18 expungement in the first place.
Section 18 Expungement Criteria
Oklahoma law sets out 12 specific circumstances under which you may qualify for a Section 18 expungement. They include:
- You were acquitted of the charge, or
- Your conviction was overturned on appeal and dismissed, or
- You were exonerated by DNA, or
- The Governor pardoned you based on your innocence, or
- You were never charged with the crime after the arrest, or
- You were under 18 at the time you committed the crime and were subsequently pardoned, or
- The charges against you were dismissed and the Statute of Limitations for refiling has passed, or
- Your misdemeanor charge was dismissed pursuant to a deferred sentence agreement, and you have not been convicted of a crime in the two years following the dismissal, or
- Your nonviolent felony was dismissed pursuant to a deferred sentence agreement, and you have not been convicted of a crime in the 10 years following the dismissal and have no pending charges, or
- You have not been convicted of a crime and have no charges pending at least 10 years after a misdemeanor conviction, or
- You have received a pardon for a nonviolent felony and have not been convicted of a crime in the following 10 years, or
- You were arrested or charged with a crime committed by another person who stole your identity.
How are my records affected?
When you are arrested and charged with a crime, the State of Oklahoma keeps two different records of your criminal history. First, from the time you are arrested, the OSBI opens a file under your name related to the crime for which you were arrested. Second, the court maintains records from the moment you were formally charged with a crime. The court records will also reflect any conviction against you.
A Section 18 expungement removes both of these criminal records. While the OSBI doesn't destroy your file, they will seal it so that it cannot be accessed by the public during a background check. What's more, when your expungement is granted, your court records will likewise be sealed, and the court will no longer reflect that you were ever charged or convicted of a crime.
Who can still access my arrest records after expungement?
While the general public will not have access to your arrest or court records following a Section 18 expungement, there are other entities that will. Law enforcement agencies acting in their official capacity will still have access to your arrest and conviction records. Your records can also be used against you in court proceedings if you are charged with a crime after your expungement.
The state won't need a court order to unseal your records when using them to show that you had a prior conviction during your subsequent criminal case. It's important to understand that while the public won't have access to your records, your prior conviction can still affect you if you have been charged with a different crime.
Benefits of Hiring an Oklahoma Expungement Attorney
It is not mandatory that you hire an attorney to handle your expungement in Oklahoma. However, the process is complicated and the court system will not cut you any slack if you choose to represent yourself during the process. In fact, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation recommends you hire an attorney:
There are specific paperwork, notice, and legal requirements necessary in order to successfully petition for an expungement of your arrest records. The OSBI strongly suggests you get a lawyer to advise you of the proper actions to take. If you decide to represent yourself, the court will hold you to the same standards for knowing and following the applicable law as it would an attorney.
The process isn't just complicated; it frequently changes. The State of Oklahoma has made changes to the laws regarding expungements in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018. Failing to keep up with changing laws could waste your time or even cost you the chance of having your record expunged.
The expungement attorneys at the Worden Law Firm understand the impact a criminal conviction can have on your life. We have an extensive background in guiding our clients through the expungement process and are committed to helping you get a fresh start. A consultation with our expungement attorneys is free; contact the Worden Law Firm today to discuss if you are eligible for a Section 18 expungement.