Sometimes, when an individual who commits a crime meets certain conditions, a judge can make the record disappear, although anyone looking for it might still be able to find it.
There are two types of criminal record expungements in Oklahoma: Section 18 and Section 991(c). Local trial attorney B.J. Baker said an expungement is the sealing of court records, meaning it's more difficult to find a criminal record to a specific arrest and conviction. And officially, the crime is wiped off the books.
A Section 18 expungement seals records to everyone except law enforcement. Oklahoma Statute Title 22, Section 18 says it is the "sealing of criminal records, as well as any civil public record, involving actions brought by and against the State of Oklahoma arising from the same arrest, transaction or occurrence."
Title 22, Section 991(c) removes some public record information, but not as much as Section 18 does. The 991(c) does not affect the arrest record and it only applies to deferred sentences that have been dismissed. That means a judge did not make a conviction but delayed sentencing and put the person on probation.
During that time, charges are still found on public records and background checks. A person who was charged with a misdemeanor is not eligible for a full expungement until a year of probation is complete, and five years if it is a felony.
Effective on July 1 for deferred cases, Oklahoma Statute Title 22, Section 991(c), says, "Upon a verdict or guilty plea, the court may defer further proceedings upon specific conditions prescribed by the court to not exceed a seven-year period."
The court may also order the defendant to: pay court costs; pay assessments or cost authorized by law; undergo county jail confinement that does not exceed 90 days; or engage in a term of community service without compensation.
Deferred cases only apply to defendants who have not been convicted of a felony or have not been deferred for a felony offense within 10 years of a pending offense.
A Section 991(c) expungement means a person's sentence is changed to not guilty, with the case dismissed. A background check will show a charge, but will say, "pleaded not guilty, case dismissed," and the case will be removed from OSCN.net and ODCR.com.
Deferred judgments do not apply to offenders or anyone required by law to register as a sex offender.
A common misconception regarding a record's being expunged is that it happens after a sentence is deferred. Paperwork must be processed by someone in the court and through the OSBI.
OSBI can and will object to a petition if agents feel the public interest in discarding a record is more significant than keeping a record.
Baker said every case of an expungement must go before a judge, who must determine whether a case is granted.
"My advise to anyone is to first go see an attorney. It's about a 60-day process," said Baker.
There are several steps in obtaining an expungement, and making sure the person has qualified with the state statutes is the first one. The person seeking record expungement should always hire an attorney to assist his or her through the process.
This also means providing documentation corroborating qualifications and writing a petition.
The individual will then file that petition with the court in the district where the case occurred, and a hearing will be set within 30 days of the filing by the judge's office. It is imperative that all agencies involved are notified of a hearing in writing. A judge will make a ruling on whether the person's record is expunged.
While most crimes can be expunged, there are some that cannot. Violent felonies typically cannot be expunged. Neither can traffic offenses; however, those are automatically removed from a person's driving record after three years.
An expungement does not mean an internet search won't pull up the original crime if it was reported on the website of a newspaper, TV or radio station, or internet news site. Some media outlets will clarify that the record has been expunged, upon request, but rarely will they remove the original charge.