People make mistakes every day. Unfortunately, some of those mistakes result in an arrest and criminal prosecution. A criminal conviction on your record can cause you years of hardship. It can impede your ability to find employment, as well as housing. The good news is that Oklahoma law may allow you to get a fresh start by having your conviction expunged.
Generally speaking, an expungement involves the court sealing the public records related to your criminal conviction. How much of your records will remain viewable to the general public depends on what type of expungement you are granted. Oklahoma law provides for two different types of expungements: Section 18 Expungements and Section 991(c) Expungements.
Section 18 vs. Section 991(c) Expungements
The legal and real-life effects of these expungements are not equal. Section 991(c) expungements are only available if you have received a deferred sentence from the court. Deferred sentences are typically given as part of a plea agreement with a defendant that does not have an extensive criminal record. If you receive a deferred sentence and meet all of the conditions set by your plea agreement, your criminal case will be dismissed. Despite entering a plea agreement, a Section 991(c) expungement will alter your criminal record so that it reflects “pled not guilty, case dismissed” as opposed to guilty.
Section 18 expungements, known as “full expungements,” are broader. You don't need to have entered into a deferred sentencing agreement to receive the expungement, but you must meet certain criteria to qualify. Once granted, the court records related to your arrest and conviction will be sealed and your file with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) will be closed.
What happens to my criminal record with a Section 991(c) expungement?
If your request for a Section 991(c) expungement is granted, the general public will not be able to see any record of your guilty plea. There are immense benefits to having your record reflect you were not convicted of a crime, but a Section 991(c) expungement does not erase all evidence of the case against you. Unlike a full expungement, a Section 991 (c) expungement will not erase the record of your arrest. What's more, it will not cause your OSBI file to be sealed. Before you can get an expungement, you must first obtain a deferred sentence in your criminal case.
Deferred sentences are a type of probation under Oklahoma Law. With a deferred sentence, you would enter a plea of guilty, but the judge would delay entering the conviction or sentencing you for a period of time. As part of your plea deal, you would be given a set of conditions you must meet. If those conditions are met, the court would then proceed to dismiss your case instead of going through with the sentencing phase. The conditions set for your deferred sentence can include:
- Pay all court costs,
- Pay an assessment as opposed to a fine,
- Pay additional assessments or costs,
- Complete community service,
- Serve a county jail sentence of no more than 90 days,
- Pay the attorney fees if you have had an attorney appointed to represent you,
- Face up to 2 years of community supervision,
- Pay reparations to any victims of the crime, if applicable,
- Complete any additional conditions authorized for suspended sentences, and
- Complete any combination of the above-listed provisions.
How are my records affected?
Once your request for a Section 991(c) expungement is granted, any record of your conviction will be erased. Background checks will reflect that you were not convicted of a crime, and a search of your name in the court records will not reflect a conviction. However, there will still be a record of your arrest and the fact that charges against you were dismissed.
The good news is that you may be able to qualify for both types of expungements. Even if you only qualify for a Section 991 (c) expungement today, you may qualify for a full expungement in the future. In fact, in some circumstances, you could qualify for a full expungement within 2 years of a misdemeanor conviction or within 10 years for some felonies. The expungement process can be complicated, which is why hiring an experienced Oklahoma expungement attorney can help speed up the process.
Who can still access my records after expungement?
While a Section 991(c) expungement can keep your conviction out of the public eye, the records of your case are still kept on file. At the time your court records are expunged, the court clerk is required to add your name and case number to a confidential list of expunged defendants. While your records can only be unsealed by an order for a district court or by written permission from you, your records can still be viewed by law enforcement.
Benefits of Hiring an Oklahoma Expungement Attorney
It is technically possible to handle your own Section 991 (c) expungement. However, given the complicated nature of the process and what's at stake, hiring an experienced Oklahoma expungement attorney is sound advice. A court will not give you special treatment if you choose to represent yourself, and the consequences of making an error can be costly. That is why the OSBI actively recommends that you hire an attorney during the expungement process. According to the OSBI:
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 Worden Law Firm has years of experience with handling deferred sentences and Section 991(c) expungements in Oklahoma. We know how a criminal conviction can make life difficult. If you have questions about your case and the expungement process, contact the Worden Law Firm for a free consultation.