Criminal Justice , Law & Principles

Ray Carter | May 5, 2022

Expungement reform signed into law

Ray Carter

Legislation that simplifies the process of expunging the criminal record of certain individuals has been signed into law.

House Bill 3316, by state Rep. Nicole Miller and state Sen. Adam Pugh, automates the process of expunging someone’s criminal record. Supporters said the reform will make it easier for some individuals with criminal records to obtain employment and therefore reduce the likelihood of recidivism.

Those eligible for automatic expungement under the bill include those who’ve been acquitted, had a conviction reversed, had charges dismissed, or have since been proven innocent by DNA evidence.

Others eligible for automatic expungement under the bill include individuals who had a misdemeanor charge dismissed following successful completion of a deferred judgment or delayed sentence, and individuals convicted of a misdemeanor that resulted in a fine of less than $501 who were not imprisoned.

The bill also applied to those convicted of a misdemeanor offense who have served their sentence and at least five years has passed since the end of the last misdemeanor sentence. It also applies to those convicted of a nonviolent felony offense that has since been reclassified as a misdemeanor who have paid all court-ordered restitution and completed any court-ordered treatment programs.

Previously, the expungement process required an individual to file a petition with the court, and often required individuals to hire a lawyer. That translated into a personal expense of $1,500 to $5,000 a case, a price many individuals could not afford. It’s estimated only about 6 percent of individuals eligible for expungement via the petition process do so, due in part to cost.

Without expungement, even individuals who have served their time and have not reoffended for a number of years struggle to obtain gainful employment. Nine of 10 employers rely on criminal background checks during the hiring process and those with prior criminal convictions are up to 50 percent less likely to receive a callback.

But within a year of expungement, beneficiaries are more likely to be employed and also earn more than what occurred prior to expungement.

In the expungement process, records are sealed, but not destroyed, and those documents remain available to law enforcement officials for at least 10 years should an individual reoffend. The expungement process also does not seal actions taken by licensing entities against individuals whose crime was tied to their profession.

Under HB 3316, prior criminal records would be sealed as part of an automated process. Each month, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) would identify eligible cases and submit them to the prosecuting agency and the arresting agency. Those three entities would then have 45 days to review those cases and could object to automatic expungement. The OSBI would be required to provide an annual report to the Legislature of all cases where a record was not expunged. If no objections are raised, the record would be expunged and sealed.

Under the bill, individuals convicted of nonviolent felony offenses will still have to go through the prior process to get an expungement and will not be eligible for automatic sealing of their records.

HB 3316 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on an 87-4 vote and passed the Oklahoma Senate on a 42-1 vote. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law on May 2.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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