When a background check turns up a criminal record, you may find yourself having trouble getting things others take for granted, such as a job, an apartment, or some types of financial aid. Oklahoma allows you to hide—expunge or seal—certain types of records so they will not show up on background checks, and you can legally deny the events ever happened.
Expungement and Record Sealing Defined
These procedures remove records of your arrest and conviction from public view. By their original definitions, expunged records are physically destroyed and sealed records still exist but cannot be accessed except by court order. Today the terms are often used interchangeably, and Oklahoma laws refer to expungement, but define it as sealing criminal records.
Eligibility for Expungement in Oklahoma
The state has multiple categories under which you may qualify to have your records expunged (sealed). These include:
- You were acquitted of criminal charges.
- No charges were filed after your arrest and the statute of limitations has expired.
- It has been at least two years since you completed a deferred sentence for a misdemeanor.
- At least 10 years have passed since felony charges were dismissed after you completed a deferred judgment.
- You were arrested or charged for a crime someone else committed using your identity.
Certain categories of records are sealed to the public, but still accessible to law enforcement for specific purposes. Some sealed records may be used against you in future criminal cases.
Depending on the specifics of your case, only court records or both court and arrest records may be sealed. When only court records are sealed, the arrest records are updated to indicate a not guilty plea and state that charges were dismissed.
Certain records may be physically destroyed if they have been sealed for 10 years.
The Expungement Procedure
If you qualify for expungement, you need to file a petition with the court in the county where the charges were filed. The court sets a hearing date and sends notices to the arresting agency, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the district attorney and any other relevant people or agencies. Any of these may object to your request.
At your hearing, the judge decides if the benefits to you of sealing the records outweighs any potential harm to the public. If the judge finds in your favor, you can legally claim the records do not exist.
Getting a Pardon
A pardon is official recognition from the governor that you have turned your life around since your crime. It does not expunge or otherwise clear your record. But in some cases it can be a first step toward expungement. For example, if you receive a full pardon for a crime you committed before turning 18, you are then eligible to request expungement.
You can apply for a pardon through the Pardon and Parole Board, which gives its recommendation to the governor.
File for Expungement with a Lawyer in Oklahoma
Although you can file for expungement without a lawyer, it is a good idea to get legal advice about your specific case. It can be confusing to understand the categories eligible for expungement and what records will be sealed. An Oklahoma expungement lawyer can explain this to you and will also know if the state has passed any new laws regarding eligibility, as it did in 2012.