Oklahoma
Restoration of Rights & Record Relief

  

 

Last updated:  July 17, 2024 

I.  Loss & restoration of civil/firearms rights

A.  Vote

As amended in 2024, the law provides that persons convicted of a felony are eligible to vote as soon as they have “fully served their sentence of court-mandated calendar days or had their sentence discharged, including any term of incarceration, parole or supervision, or completed a period of probation ordered by any court,” including when they have had their sentence commuted to time served, or have received a full pardon. See 26 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 4-101(1), as amended by HB1629. Restoration of voting rights is automatic upon expiration of the time to be served, without requiring payment of court fees or restitution.1  No petition to the court is required.  Individuals need only to re-register to vote.  Id.   Federal and out-of-state convictions are treated similarly.  26 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 4-120.4.

B.  Office

Felony offenders and persons convicted of a misdemeanor involving embezzlement are disqualified from office for 15 years after completion of sentence or until pardoned.  26 Okla. Stat. Ann. §§ 5-105a(A), (B).  A person convicted of a felony is permanently disqualified from election to the state legislature.  Okla Const. art. V, § 18.  In addition, a sitting member of the legislature who commits any of the offenses specified in 21 Okla. Stat. Ann. §§ 301 et seq. (“Crimes Against the Legislative Power”) is permanently disqualified from holding legislative office.  21 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 312.

C.  Jury

Persons who have been convicted of any felony or who have served a term of imprisonment in any penitentiary, state or federal, for the commission of a felony may not sit on a jury, unless they have been “fully restored to his or her civil rights” by pardon.  38 Okla. Stat. Ann.§ 28(C)(5).

D.  Firearms

A person convicted of any felony in any court may not possess a concealable firearm (“any pistol, imitation or homemade pistol, altered air or toy pistol, machine gun, sawed-off shotgun or rifle, or any other dangerous or deadly firearm”), and may not ride as a passenger in a vehicle containing such a weapon.  21 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 1283(A).  A person convicted of a “nonviolent felony” who has received a “full and complete pardon” and has not been convicted of any other felony offense which has not been pardoned, “shall have restored the right to possess any firearm or other [prohibited] weapon . . . the right to apply for and carry a handgun, concealed or unconcealed, pursuant to the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act and the right to perform the duties of a peace officer, gunsmith, or for firearms repair.”  § 1283(B).  A pardoned conviction from another state may trigger firearms dispossession in Oklahoma absent proof that the foreign pardon restored firearms rights.  Kellogg v. State, 504 P.2d 440, 442 (Okla. Crim. App. 1972).  

II.  Pardon policy & practice

A.  Authority

The governor’s pardon power cannot be exercised except pursuant to a favorable recommendation from a majority of the Board of Pardon and Parole.  Okla. Const. art. VI, § 10.  The governor must report to the legislature on each clemency grant at each regular session, though he is not required to state the reasons for his decisions.  Okla. Const. art. VI, § 10.  (The governor must also approve all parole decisions, and commutation recommendations are interspersed with parole recommendation on monthly report to the governor.  See https://oklahoma.gov/ppb/dockets-results.html (Docket Results, Hearing Schedule).)

B.  Administration

The Board has five members, three of whom are appointed by the governor, the other two, respectively, by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the presiding judge of the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals.  Their terms expire with the governor’s.  The Board chooses its own chairman.  57 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 332.4(A).  Okla. Const. art. VI, § 10 provides:

“It shall be the duty of the Board to make an impartial investigation and study of applicants for commutations, pardons or paroles, and by a majority vote make its recommendations to the Governor of all deemed worthy of clemency. Provided, the Pardon and Parole Board shall have no authority to make recommendations regarding parole for convicts sentenced to death or sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.”

C.  Eligibility

Eligibility for executive pardon is triggered after service of sentence – or after five years of supervised parole, whichever is shorter.  If supervision is terminated early, the period of supervision must run.  An individual is not eligible for pardon if there are pending charges against him, or if they owe fines or other court debt.  Persons convicted in other states and federal offenders are ineligible to apply for an Oklahoma pardon.  Misdemeanants may apply if they are not eligible for expungement, and if the applicant can demonstrate that the misdemeanor is prohibiting them from something like holding a state license. 

Pardon eligibility criteria and procedures are set forth in Chapter 20 of Title 515 of the Oklahoma Administrative Code.  See also Board of Pardon and Parole, Frequently Asked Questions, https://oklahoma.gov/ppb/pardons-commutations/faq.html (“BPP, FAQs”).

D.  Effect

Pardon restores the right to hold office and restores firearms privileges for “non-violent” felony convictions.  See 21 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 1283(B) (person convicted of a “nonviolent felony” who has received a “full and complete pardon” regains gun rights, including right to serve as peace officer, and to carry a weapon); BPP, FAQs (“A pardon does not clear a criminal record, but does acknowledge that someone has worked hard to become a productive, law-abiding citizen after making mistakes in the past.”)  A person convicted of a violent felony may not possess a firearm even with a pardon.  See 1283(A).  All offenses, including federal and out-off-state, must be pardoned in order to hold a liquor license.  According to the instructions accompanying the pardon application form, a pardon may or may not help with a licensing decision, since some boards give effect to a pardon and some do not.   See Frequently Asked Questions,  https://oklahoma.gov/ppb/pardons-commutations/faq.html

E.  Expungement after pardon

The statute authorizing expungement after a pardon has been amended on several occasions since 2012. Most recently, in 2019 the law was amended to allow anyone pardoned to seek expungement, eliminating requirements that the crime be non-violent, that the governor make a finding of innocence, and a 10-year waiting period.  22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(A)(4), amended by SB815 (May 2019).   A person who was under 18 at the time of conviction who is pardoned may also have his conviction expunged. § 18(A)(6), as amended by 2012 Okla. Sess. Law Serv. Ch. 183, § 2 (H.B. 3091). 

In 2024 pardoned convictions were made “clean slate eligible” for purposes of automatic expungement. See § 18(C) as amended by HB 1770.  See Part III, below.  

F.  Process

Pardon requires a public hearing, a majority vote by the Board, and a published recommendation.  The applicant must submit a completed application form and documents relating to his conviction, including proof that fines and restitution have been paid (credit report, proof of employment and residence, etc.).  The application must state specific reasons for applying.  The instructions warn that pardon is not a sign of vindication or innocence.  The Board takes into account acceptance of responsibility, remorse and atonement.  

The investigation of a pardon application is conducted by a Department of Corrections parole officer – the applicant is advised to be candid, and to present himself as a “responsible and productive citizen.”  (“Information you might consider negative will not necessarily hurt your application.  It may serve to show how you were able to overcome a problem and actually improve your chances of receiving a Pardon.”)  When an applicant lives in a different state, information is requested from authorities there about employment and living arrangements.  The application with a report from the D.O.C. is then submitted to the Board for consideration.  Pardon procedures are set forth in Chapter 20 of Title 515 of the Oklahoma Administrative Code.  

The Board holds a public hearing in every case and may take official action only in an open public meeting, pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.  57 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 332.2(G).  An applicant “may choose to appear before the Board and speak on his/her behalf,” and “may bring a representative with them; however, only one person will be allowed to speak to the Board regarding the reasons for requesting the pardon. The speaker will be given five (5) minutes to speak to the Board or a reasonable time limit at the Chair’s discretion.” Okla. Admin. Code § 515:20-13-3.  According to Board staff, the process generally takes about six months to complete.  See Frequently Asked Questions,  https://oklahoma.gov/ppb/pardons-commutations/faq.html

The Board meets once a month or at the call of the chairman.  The Board must provide prosecutors a list of persons to be considered for pardon 20 days before hearing, and must also notify victims.  57 Okla. Stat. Ann. §§ 332.2(B), (C); Okla. Admin. Code § 515:1-5-2(d).  Victims, members of public, and law enforcement officials may also speak at the hearing, subject to strict time limitations.  Okla. Admin. Code §§ 515:20-13-4, 515:20-13-5. 

The Board’s recommendations must be posted on the Board’s website.  Okla. Admin. Code § 515:20-15-2.  The Board forwards favorable recommendations to the governor within 30 days, and the governor has 90 days to act.  If the governor does not approve the recommendation, it is deemed denied.  57 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 332.19.

G.  Frequency of grants

For the past fifteen years, the Oklahoma governor has approved more than 100 pardons every year.  In January 2020 Governor Kevin Stitt reported that he had granted 290 pardons in his first year in office, along with 774 commutations and 101 paroles. The Board hears 15-20 pardon cases every month, recommending favorably in about 80% of the cases it hears.  In the past, the governor has approved most of the recommendations received from the Board, but no grants have been announced since January 2020. The Board also considers a number of commutation applications each month.2  Source: Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, https://www.ok.gov/ppb/Dockets_and_Results/index.html.

H.  Contact

Tom Bates. Executive Director
Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board
405-521-6600
Tom.Bates@ppb.ok.gov

III.  Expungement, sealing & other record relief

Beginning in 2014, and continuing each year since, Oklahoma has made it progressively easier for individuals to have their criminal records “expunged” (sealed).    The 2014 amendments to 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18 reduced the waiting time for expungement in cases of deferred adjudication of misdemeanor charges from two years to one, without regard to prior misdemeanor convictions.  In the years since, eligibility categories have expanded, waiting periods of been reduced, and bars in prior convictions have been eliminated.  In 2022, sealing of some convictions was made automatic. Eligibility for relief as of the date of this profile (except as noted) is described below.    

Clean Slate Automatic Expungement:  On May 2, 2022, Oklahoma enacted a comprehensive process making expungement automatic for non-conviction records and misdemeanors already eligible under existing law, but not for eligible felonies, including pardoned felonies, and not for deferred dispositions. See HB 3316, enacting 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(C).   The law is effective November 1, 2022, and the expungement of “clean slate eligible” cases will begin three years after that date, in 2025.  The procedures are spelled out in the law, and include a process for identifying eligible convictions, a 45-day period for the prosecutor to object (including based on failure to pay restitution), and expungement by the court without requiring an individual petition.  No provision is made in the law for notifying individuals whose records have been expunged, though the court is also authorized to make rules for the process which may address the notice issue.   

We do not include any separate section on automatic relief since HB 3316 (unlike analogous automatic sealing provisions in New Jersey and Michigan) does not include any new or different eligibility criteria.  

A.  Expungement of convictions

Felony convictions:  In 2018 Oklahoma for the first time made felonies eligible for expungement (sealing) without requiring that the person first be pardoned, and it further tinkered with the eligibility criteria the following year in 2019.  This recent series of changes is discussed below. 

Effective November 1, 2018, a person may apply to the court for expungement of a single nonviolent felony conviction 5 years after completion of sentence, if the person has not been convicted of any other felony, or a separate misdemeanor in the past seven (7) years, and if no felony or misdemeanor charges are pending. 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(A)(12) (as amended by SB 650 (2018) and SB 815 (2019).   Offenses arising out of the same transaction or occurrence shall be treated as one conviction and offense.  § 18(D).  In addition to omitting the requirement that the conviction first be pardoned, the 2018 law reduced the applicable waiting period from 10 years to five; and deleted a requirement that the person have no prior felonies, or any separate misdemeanor in the past 15 years. 

In 2019, expungement eligibility was further expanded by SB 815 and HB 1269.  Effective November 1, 2019, a person convicted of not more than two felony offenses, neither of which is of serious violence or requires registration as a sex offender,  may petition to have the record expunged 10 years after completion of sentence.  22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(A)(13) (as amended by SB 815 (2019).  Requirements in the 2018 law that multiple felony convictions first be pardoned and that the individual wait 20 years were repealed.  

Also in 2019, HB1269 extended expungement eligibility to persons convicted of a nonviolent felony offense which was subsequently reclassified as a misdemeanor under Oklahoma law, 30 days after completion of sentence, if restitution ordered by the court has been paid in full and any treatment program has been successfully completed.  § 18(A)(15).  The court has discretion to grant or deny the petition, and is not prohibited from considering other court debt, but the burden is on the state to show harm to the public outweighs harm to the defendant. Waters v. State, 472 P.3d 705, 707 (Okla. Civ. App. 2020).   

In 2022, HB 3024 authorized expungement for up to two felony charges dismissed after deferred judgment or sentencing (2022). 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(A)(14).  See section on deferred dispositions below.  

Misdemeanor convictions:  Misdemeanor convictions may be expunged 5 years after conviction (reduced from 10 years in 2016 by HB 2397) if no charges are pending against the person, and if the person has no prior felony offenses, and if all court debt has been paid.  § 18(A)(11). There is no waiting period, however, if the person was sentenced to a fine less than $501 and no prison sentence imposed (suspended or otherwise), so long as the person has never been convicted of a felony and no charges are pending.  Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(A)(10) (as amended by HB 2397 (2016)).   See also the extension of expungement eligibility to felony convictions subsequently reclassified as misdemeanors, discussed above.  § 18(A)(15).   These convictions will now be eligible for automatic expungement beginnng in 2025.  See HB 3316, enacting 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(C), described above.     

Pardoned felony convictions: The statute authorizing expungement after a pardon has been amended on several occasions since 2012. Most recently, in 2019 the law was amended to allow anyone pardoned to seek expungement, eliminating requirements that the crime be non-violent, that the governor make a finding of innocence, and a 10-year waiting period.  22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(A)(4), amended by SB815 (May 2019).   A person who was under 18 at the time of conviction who is pardoned may also have his conviction expunged. § 18(A)(6), as amended by 2012 Okla. Sess. Law Serv. Ch. 183, § 2 (H.B. 3091).   

B.  Deferred adjudication and expungement 

In cases where a person with no prior felony convictions is charged with a misdemeanor or minor felony, the court may defer judgment for a period not to exceed seven years, and may require a defendant to make restitution and meet a variety of community-based conditions, including up to 90 days in jail.  22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 991c(A).  This program “shall apply only to defendants who have not been previously convicted of a felony offense and have not received more than one deferred judgment for a felony offense within the ten (10) years previous to the commission of the pending offense,” unless the district attorney grants a waiver.  § 991c(H).  Defendants found guilty or who plead guilty or nolo contendere to a sex offense required by law to register pursuant to the Sex Offenders Registration Act are not eligible.  § 991c(I).  Upon successful completion of probation, the court “shall order the verdict or plea of guilty or plea of nolo contendere to be expunged from the record and the charge shall be dismissed with prejudice to any further action.”  § 991c(C).  The defendant may petition the court to have the filing of the indictment and the dismissal expunged from the public index and docket sheet. § 991c(C)(5).  The effect of expungement under this provision is to delete from the court docket, except that the clerk of the court keeps a record for criminal history purposes.  § 991c(C).  See also Oklahoma Community Sentencing Act, 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. §§ 988.1 et seq.  “Defendants qualifying under Section 18 of this title may petition the court to have the filing of the indictment and the dismissal expunged from the public index and docket sheet. This section shall not be mutually exclusive of Section 18 of this title.” § 991c(C)(5).

Expungement after deferred adjudication:  Expungement is available for those who successfully complete deferred adjudication under 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. §§ 18(A)(8), (9) and (14).  Subsection (A)(8) authorizes expungement for those charged with a misdemeanor who have never been convicted of a felony, with no charges pending, after one year.  Subsection (A)(9) authorizes expungement for those charged with a non-violent felony who have no prior felony convictions after five years.  In 2022, HB 3024 added (A)(14) which authorizes expungement for those charged with up to two felonies after 10 years, if no felony or misdemeanor charges are pending, with no mention of disqualifying prior felony convictions.  

Deferred sentencing and probation for first-time drug offenses:  Under a separate statutory authority, persons not previously convicted of drug offenses under state or federal law are eligible for deferred sentencing leading to automatic expungement.  63 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 2-410(A).  Conditions of probation may include participation in a treatment program.  Id.  Following expungement, the arrest or conviction “shall not thereafter be regarded as an arrest or conviction for purposes of employment, civil rights, or any statute, regulation, license, questionnaire or any other public or private purpose.”  § 2-410(B).  However, an expunged conviction may be treated as a predicate offense in any subsequent recidivist drug prosecution for a period of ten years, provided there has been no conviction for misdemeanor involving moral turpitude or felony in the interim.  Id.

C.  Non-conviction records 

Expungement is available to those charged with a felony or misdemeanor where “all charges have been dismissed, the person has never been convicted of a felony, no misdemeanor or felony charges are pending against the person and the statute of limitations for refiling the charge or charges has expired or the prosecuting agency confirms that the charge or charges will not be refiled; provided, however, this category shall not apply to charges that have been dismissed following the completion of a deferred judgment or delayed sentence.”  22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(A)(7).   Arrest records may be expunged if no charges are filed, if the person is acquitted or the conviction reversed, if factual innocence is established by DNA evidence, or if pardon is based on governor’s finding of actual innocence.   §§ 18(A)(1)-(5). 

These records, like those described in section B, will now be eligible for automatic expungement beginnng in 2025.  See HB 3316, enacting 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 18(C), described above.      

D.  Effect

Expungement means “the sealing of criminal records, as well as any public civil record, involving actions brought by and against the State of Oklahoma arising from the same arrest, transaction or occurrence.” 22 Okla. Stat Ann. § 18(B).  Expunged conviction records (including those for pardoned offenses) and records expunged following successful completion of probation remain available to law enforcement and may be used in subsequent prosecutions.  § 18(D).  

Any record that has been sealed may be ordered “obliterated or destroyed” after an additional 10 years.  § 19(K).

Public and private agencies shall not require an individual to disclose a sealed record: 

Employers, educational institutions, state and local government agencies, officials, and employees shall not, in any application or interview or otherwise, require an applicant to disclose any information contained in sealed records. An applicant need not, in answer to any question concerning arrest and criminal records, provide information that has been sealed, including any reference to or information concerning such sealed information and may state that no such action has ever occurred.   

22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 19(F).  An application “may not be denied solely because of the applicant’s refusal to disclose arrest and criminal records information that has been sealed.”  Id.

E.  Procedures

The procedures for sealing are set forth in 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 19.  A person must petition the district court in the jurisdiction where records are located, which must schedule a hearing with 30 days’ notice to the district attorney.  § 19(A), (B).  Court must weigh harm to individual against public interest in retaining the records: 

Upon a finding that the harm to privacy of the person in interest or dangers of unwarranted adverse consequences outweigh the public interest in retaining the records, the court may order such records, or any part thereof except basic identification information, to be sealed.  If the court finds that neither sealing of the records nor maintaining of the records unsealed by the agency would serve the ends of justice, the court may enter an appropriate order limiting access to such records.

§ 19(C). Any order may be appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court by the applicant, district attorney, arresting agency, or Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation. Id.

Upon the entry of an order to seal the records, or any part thereof, the subject official actions shall be deemed never to have occurred, and the person in interest and all criminal justice agencies may properly reply, upon any inquiry in the matter, that no such action ever occurred and that no such record exists with respect to such person.

§ 19(D). Inspection of sealed records will then be permitted by the court only upon petition by the person in interest who is the subject of such records, the Attorney General, the district attorney, and only to those persons and for such purposes named in such petition. § 19(E).

Employers, educational institutions, state and local government agencies, officials, and employees shall not, in any application or interview or otherwise, require an applicant to disclose any information contained in sealed records.  An applicant need not, in answer to any question concerning arrest and criminal records provide information that has been sealed, including any reference to or information concerning such sealed information and may state that no such action has ever occurred.  Such an application may not be denied solely because of the applicant’s refusal to disclose arrest and criminal records information that has been sealed.

§ 19(F).

A petitioner denied expungement may have the matter reconsidered at a later time upon a showing of changed circumstances.  Id.

F.  Intent

Oklahoma’s expungement statute is “clearly intended to aid those who are acquitted, exonerated, or who otherwise deserve a second chance at a ‘clean record.’ ” Buechler v. State, 175 P.3d 966, 969 (Okla. Civ. App. 2007), quoting McMahon, 959 P.2d 607, 609 (Okla. Civ. App. 1998).

Once the presumption of harm is established [by petitioner seeking expungement of criminal records], the burden then shifts to the agencies opposing expungement to show that keeping such records public does not harm privacy interests and would serve the ends of justice.  In determining whether the State has met this burden, the trial court should balance the personal harm to privacy and other adverse consequences of open records against the public interest in keeping those records open.

Buechler, 175 P.3d at 971 (internal citation and quotations omitted).

G.  Juvenile Records

Expungement of juvenile records is governed by Okla. Stat. tit. 10A, § 2-6-109.  As amended in 2021 by HB1799, a person must be at least age 18 (reduced from age 21); have completed all requirements of the past juvenile proceeding; and have no subsequent adult arrests or pending charges.  §§ 2-6-109(A), (B).  Under the 2021 amendments, the person may apply orally when the case is before the court, and need not file a petition unless the state objects.  Also, a deferred adjudication is no longer disqualifying.  The court may order expungement upon a finding that the harm to the individual’s privacy or the risk of unwarranted consequences outweighs the interest in maintaining the records.  § 2-6-109(C).  No hearing is required if the prosecutor does not object.  An expunged record is sealed and can be destroyed after 10 years if not unsealed.  Id. at (J).  The person may deny the existence of an expunged juvenile record.  § 2-6-109(D).  Individuals who are not adjudicated delinquent may have records sealed upon court order in certain situations.   § 2-6-108(B).  The person may deny the existence of a sealed record.  § 2-6-108(D).  Sealed records can only be accessed by court order in certain situations.  § 2-6-108(G).

In 2014, 10A Okla. Sta. Ann. § 2-2-402(F) was enacted, providing that juvenile adjudications “shall not be considered an arrest, detention or conviction for purposes of employment, civil rights, or any statute, regulation, license, questionnaire, application, or any other public or private purposes, unless otherwise provided by law.” 

IV.  Criminal record in employment & licensing

A.  Employment

No public or private employer may ask about or consider a sealed conviction. See Part III, supra.  An applicant for employment need not, in answer to any question concerning arrest and criminal records, provide information that has been sealed, “and may state that no such action has ever occurred.”  22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 19(F).  Such an application “may not be denied solely because of the applicant’s refusal to disclose arrest and criminal records information that has been sealed.”     See also 63 Okla.Stat. Ann. § 2-410(B)(following expungement of the record in cases of first time drug offenders, the arrest or conviction “shall not thereafter be regarded as an arrest or conviction for purposes of employment, civil rights, or any statute, regulation, license, questionnaire or any other public or private purpose”).

Ban-the-box in state hiring

On February 24, 2016, Governor Mary Fallin signed Executive Order 2016-03, ordering all state agencies to remove from their employment applications all questions about criminal history “unless a felony conviction would  automatically render an applicant not qualified.”  See https://www.sos.ok.gov/documents/executive/1023.pdf.  Agencies may still inquire about criminal history during the interview process.  The Order does not apply to “sensitive governmental positions in which a criminal history would be an immediate disqualification.”

B.  Occupational Licensing

In 2019, Oklahoma enacted the first of what would be two successive comprehensive revisions of its occupational licensing scheme, with certain generally applicable provisions contained in a new Section 4000.1 of Title 59, and conforming provisions added into specific licensing schemes. See HB1373. Each state entity with oversight authority over a particular licensed occupation or profession was required to “list with specificity any criminal offense that is a disqualifying offense for such occupation,” and any disqualifying offense “shall substantially relate to the duties and responsibilities of the occupation and pose a reasonable threat to public safety.” § 4000.1(c)(2019). Disqualifying offenses “shall be provided to applicants and others upon request.” The 2019 law also provided for a preliminary determination as to whether a person’s criminal record would be disqualifying (a provision strengthened three years later, as described below).3 The specific regulatory schemes of dozens of professions and occupations were amended by HB1373 to strike references to “good moral character” and “moral turpitude,” and to include the two conjoined requirements of disqualification (“substantial relationship” and “reasonable threat”). The coupling of these two standards made the resulting test for disqualification considerably stronger than in many states. The 2019 law also provided due process protections through the APA in the event of a denial.

In 2022, Oklahoma again enacted major licensing legislation that amended and strengthened many of the provisions enacted in 2019. See SB1691. The new law amended Section 4000.1 to permit denial of licensure based on criminal history or pending criminal charges “only if the underlying offense substantially relates to the duties and responsibilities of the occupation and poses a reasonable threat to public safety, health, or welfare.” In applying the test, a series of factors must be considered, including “evidence relevant to the circumstances of the offense” and evidence of the applicant’s rehabilitation. § 4000.1(B). The 2022 law deleted the provision requiring the agency to publish a list of disqualifying offenses on its website, presumably to emphasize the case-by-case nature of the inquiry.  The new law also prohibits denial based on non-convictions and sealed/pardoned/expunged convictions, and non-violent convictions after 5 years without a new conviction. Finally, a license may not be denied based on “A finding that an applicant lacks good character or fails to meet any other similarly vague standard where a criminal conviction is the basis for the finding.” See § 4000.1(C)

The 2022 law added procedural protections, requiring an agency to provide a written statement of reasons to an applicant before a final decision on denial, and an opportunity to appeal and to reapply. § 4000.1(D).  Every licensing authority is required to report annually to the legislature on the number of applications received from people with a criminal record, and their disposition. § 4000.1(L).  The 2022 law also exempted Section 4000.1 the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, the Bail Bonds Division of the Oklahoma Insurance Department, the State Board of Education, and applicants seeking licensure or certification from these authorities. § 4000.1(M).

Preliminary determination: As noted above, the 2019 legislation provided for a preliminary determination as to whether a person’s criminal record would be disqualifying. Each licensing entity was directed to respond to a request within 60 days and charge no more than $95. § 4000.1(F), (G).  The 2022 law fortified this provision by making the preliminary determination binding, except in the event of a subsequent conviction or pending criminal charges. § 4000.1(H).

 


  1. The 2024 amendments to § 4-101(1) were intended to clarify that persons whose sentences had been commuted to time served, and those who had been pardoned, were immediately eligible to vote.  See https://oksenate.gov/press-releases/senate-approves-bill-clarifying-voting-rights-after-commutationspardons.  This is the second time in five years that the rights of convicted individuals had to be clarified, but no change in the law was intended. Prior to a 2019 amendment, also intended to “clarify” the meaning of the statute, the law provided that a person was “ineligible for a period of time equal to the time prescribed in the judgment and sentence.”  See HB 2253
  2. Oklahoma is the only state in the country that still requires its governor to approve all prison releases by parole or commutation.  As a result, the Oklahoma governor grants hundreds of commutations annually.  Both forms of discretionary release have dropped in recent years, and the Oklahoma legislature authorized the Parole Board to release certain less serious offenders without the requirement of the governor’s signature.
  3. “Substantially relate” is defined to mean the nature of the criminal conduct for which the person was convicted has a direct bearing on the fitness or ability to perform one or more of the duties or responsibilities necessarily related to the occupation” and “Pose a reasonable threat” means “the nature of the criminal conduct for which the person was convicted involved an act or threat of harm against another and has a bearing on the fitness or ability to serve the public or work with others in the occupation.” § 4000.1(A) (2019). Legislation enacted in 2015, HB 2168, imposed similar limits on a few specialized licensing boards, but the disqualifying standards were frequentl0 stated in the disjunctive, and language referring to good moral character remained in the statute. See, e.g., 59 Okl. St. §§ 199.11 (Board of Cosmetology and Barbering), 46.14 (Board of Governors of the Licensed Architects, Landscape Architects and Registered Interior Designers).