Criminal Justice

Ray Carter | February 18, 2022

Oklahoma expungement measure advances

Ray Carter

Legislation that would automatically expunge the criminal record of low-level offenders who have served their time, increasing the likelihood they are able to obtain future employment, has passed unanimously out of a state House committee.

House Bill 3316, by Rep. Nicole Miller, R-Edmond, would automate the process of expunging someone’s criminal record.

Under current law, those who qualify for expungement include individuals who were previously convicted of a nonviolent felony offense who have not been convicted of any other felony or separate misdemeanor in the last seven years, and have no felony or misdemeanor charges pending against them. To qualify for expungement, at least five years must have passed since the individual completed the sentence for his or her felony conviction.

Individuals convicted of two nonviolent felony offenses may also qualify if they have kept a clean record and at least 10 years have passed since completion of their sentence.

However, the expungement process typically requires an individual to file a petition with the court, which can require hiring a lawyer and cost between $1,500 and $5,000 a case—making it financially unfeasible for many individuals. It’s estimated only about 6 percent of individuals eligible for expungement via the petition process do so, in part due to cost.

The lack of expungement, even years after someone has completed his or her sentence, remains a barrier to 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. Within a year of expungement, data show an individual is 11 percent more likely to be employed and earn 22 percent more than prior to expungement.

With expungement, records are sealed but not destroyed and 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 automatically sealed. 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.

HB 3316 passed the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee on a 5-0 vote.

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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