Like other states, Oklahoma distinguishes felonies from misdemeanors based on a crime's potential punishment. Misdemeanors can be penalized by up to a year in jail. Any crime that carries a possible penalty of more than one year and up to life in prison or the death penalty is a felony.
This article will discuss felony crimes and penalties in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is one of a few states that doesn't classify felonies into different levels or classes (like Class A or Level 1). Rather, the law specifies penalties on a crime-by-crime basis. For example, the crime of arson specifies a penalty of up to 35 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
Criminal statutes will generally specify a maximum and sometimes a minimum sentence. If a crime does not indicate a maximum sentence, the maximum defaults to life imprisonment.
Here are some examples of Oklahoma felony crimes and penalties:
Repeat felony offenders face stiff sentencing enhancements under Oklahoma law. These enhancements increase the maximum sentence generally allowed for a specific offense. The exact enhancement depends on the current offense (violent or nonviolent) and the number of prior felony convictions the person has.
For instance, a repeat felony offender whose current offense is considered a "violent offense" (defined in law) faces:
Separate enhancements apply for nonviolent felonies, sex offenses, theft- and fraud-related crimes, and drug crimes.
Judges have several sentencing options at their disposal for felony convictions. The judge can impose any sentence up to the maximum allowed for that crime. For crimes with mandatory minimums, the judge must impose that minimum sentence (with a few exceptions).
The judge will usually announce the sentence term (such as a 10-year sentence) and then either:
A judge can also impose fines, fees, restitution, community service, or other sanctions.
Oklahoma statutes also authorize several alternatives to traditional sentencing for certain felony offenders (usually for first-time or nonviolent offenders).
Deferred sentencing. For first-time felony offenders (except those accused of sex offenses), the judge may hold off on entering the conviction and defer sentencing as long as the defendant abides by certain conditions (which can last up to seven years). If the defendant successfully completes all the conditions, the judge dismisses the case and expunges all related records.
Drug court or mental health court. A judge may consider placing felony defendants with no prior convictions for violent felonies in a treatment court. Drug courts and mental health courts aim to address offenders' underlying substance abuse or behavioral health issues that may have led to the criminal act.
For offenders who are sent to prison, the judge's sentence represents the longest amount of time they can spend in prison. But not all offenders will serve the entire sentence behind bars. Some may serve a portion of their sentence in the community on parole.
Parole allows the early release of an inmate from prison conditioned on the parolee's compliance with their release plan and supervision terms (which follow them for the remainder of the sentence). Parole does not shorten a person's sentence, just the time spent serving that sentence behind bars in prison.
To be considered for parole, an offender must serve a certain percentage of their sentence. For inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses, most become eligible after serving one-quarter or one-third of their sentence. Those convicted of violent crimes or sex crimes must typically serve 85% of their sentence. (More than 50 crimes are considered "violent crimes" and subject to what's known as the "85% rule.")
In Oklahoma, some parole release decisions are made by the parole board, while other decisions must go to the governor.
Parolees released to the community must abide by their release conditions (which are similar to probation conditions). If the parolee violates a condition, a revocation hearing will take place to decide whether to return the person to prison.
Expungement options for felony convictions are primarily limited to nonviolent felonies. To qualify, a person cannot have any pending criminal charges and must meet the following conditions:
Being charged with a felony offense in Oklahoma is a very serious situation, as the state has some of the more stringent sentencing consequences in the country. Being able to protect your rights during the criminal justice process requires that you talk to a criminal defense lawyer who has experience representing clients in local courts. You should talk to a lawyer as soon as you suspect that you are being investigated for a crime, and immediately upon being approached by investigators.
(Okla. Stat. tit 21, §§ 51.1, 51.1a, 51.2; tit. 22, §§ 18, 471, 472, 985.1, 991a-2, 991c; tit. 57 §§ 332.7, 332.8 (2022).)