Like many states, Oklahoma distinguishes felonies from misdemeanors based on the amount of time a person could potentially spend behind bars. If a sentence allows incarceration for more than a year, the crime is a felony. Sentences of a year or less fall are considered misdemeanors.
This article will discuss the penalty, sentencing, and expungement options for misdemeanors in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma specifies penalties for misdemeanors on a crime-by-crime basis. The criminal statute might specify a sentence of 30 days, 90 days, or six months' incarceration, for instance. The maximum potential jail sentence for a misdemeanor is one year. If no penalty is specified in statute, a misdemeanor defaults to a maximum of one year in county jail and a $500 fine.
Examples. Here are some examples of Oklahoma's misdemeanor crimes and penalties.
Increased penalties. Some misdemeanor offenses increase their penalties based on the seriousness of the offense. For instance, a person convicted of assault and battery faces up to 90 days in jail. But the penalty increases to up to a year in jail if the crime is motivated by bias or committed against a family member, sports official, or school employee.
Repeat offenses. A person who commits a second or subsequent misdemeanor may also face stiffer penalties. As noted above, reckless driving carries a five- to 90-day sentence for a first offense. Any subsequent offense means at least 10 days and up to six months' jail time. Shoplifting penalties also increase for repeat misdemeanors—a first shoplifting offense carries a 30-day jail sentence but a second offense means a possible one-year jail sentence.
Enhanced felony penalties. Certain repeat misdemeanors can also result in felony charges. Going back to the shoplifting example, a third misdemeanor shoplifting offense carries felony penalties. And, for a second misdemeanor conviction for assault, battery, property damage, or criminal threats motivated by bias, a person could face up to 10 years in prison.
Upon being convicted of a misdemeanor, a judge typically sentences the defendant immediately or soon after entering a guilty verdict or plea. A judge can impose a jail sentence up to the maximum allowed by law, plus fines, fees, and restitution (compensation to the victim).
But not everyone convicted of a misdemeanor will face jail time. Judges have several sentencing alternatives available to them, including deferred and suspended sentences, probation, community service programs, electronic monitoring, and treatment courts. And, in some cases, the district attorney (DA) may conduct a diversion program, which gives eligible offenders a chance to avoid court and a criminal record.
Misdemeanor diversion programs (if offered) vary by county and in terms of participant eligibility and timing in the criminal justice process. Common programs include pretrial diversion (a pre-charging option) and deferred adjudication or prosecution (post-charging options). Treatment courts may also be categorized as diversion programs, although this option requires the court's participation and sign-off.
Diversion. Pretrial diversion typically occurs after arrest but before the DA files charges. In deferred adjudication or prosecution programs, the DA generally files the charges but holds off on pursuing the charges in court. For both, the defendant must agree to the conditions of the program, which may include paying fees and restitution, undergoing behavioral health or substance abuse treatment, or performing community service, among other requirements. The DA will drop or dismiss the charges if the defendant successfully completes diversion.
Treatment courts. Misdemeanor treatment courts—such as drug or mental health courts—often require a defendant to plead guilty and agree to participate in a highly structured court program led by a multi-disciplinary team. This team may consist of the judge, DA, defense attorney, probation officer, case manager, and treatment provider. Treatment courts aim to address offenders' underlying substance abuse or behavioral health issues that may have led to the criminal act. Offenders must make frequent court appearances, be subject to intensive supervision, and comply with treatment plans.
As another alternative, a judge may order a deferred or suspended misdemeanor sentence.
Deferred sentence. The law allows judges to defer (hold off on) entering a conviction and sentence as long as the defendant abides by conditions set by the judge. Deferred sentencing is only available to defendants with no prior felony convictions. If the defendant successfully completes the conditions of the deferred sentence, the judge dismisses the case and expunges all related records.
Suspended sentence; probation. When suspending a sentence, the judge enters the conviction but holds off on sending the defendant to jail. The conditions of a suspended sentence can include paying fines, fees, and restitution, performing community service, serving a short jail sentence, being subject to electronic monitoring, attending treatment, or submitting to drug and alcohol testing, among other conditions. A suspended sentence can also include supervised misdemeanor probation. Successful completion of the suspended sentence results in a conviction but may allow the defendant to avoid time behind bars. Failure to comply with conditions of the suspended sentence can result in the judge revoking the suspension and imposing sanctions or the jail sentence.
Oklahoma allows expungement (or sealing) of misdemeanor records and convictions under the circumstances described below.
In most instances to qualify, the person cannot have any pending charges or prior felony convictions. (This requirement doesn't apply if no charges were filed.) Expunged records are generally sealed from public view but may be available to law enforcement and courts for future charging and sentencing decisions.
It's very important to seek the advice of a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney whenever you are facing criminal charges in Oklahoma. Even though many people think of misdemeanors as minor charges, any amount of jail time can lead to the loss of a job and income to pay for housing and basic needs. Fines, fees, and restitution costs can also add up quickly. And having a criminal record can make it harder to get a job, rent an apartment, or qualify for loans. When talking with a lawyer, be sure to ask about the immediate and future ramifications of a misdemeanor conviction.
(Okla. Stat. §§ 22-18, -305.2, -471.2, -991a, -991b, -991c (2021).)