Possession v. distribution in Oklahoma
Simple drug possession — a nonviolent offense in which the defendant is only accused of possessing illegal drugs — was long a felony in Oklahoma until voters took decisive action in 2016.
That’s when voters checked their ballots in favor of making simple possession a misdemeanor in Oklahoma instead of a felony. It was a bold move that’s been championed as a way to reduce the state’s growing prison population and relinquish Oklahoma’s title as the “prison capital of the world.”
But what about all the people who were already in jail or had already served time for simple possession before 2016? It took the Oklahoma legislature and the governor three years to address that problem after voters approved making simple possession a misdemeanor.
HB 1269, passed by the legislature and signed into law in 2019, makes simple possession as a misdemeanor retroactive, meaning that people who are serving jail time for simple possession or have previous felony convictions for simple possession can have their sentences commuted or their records expunged.
Felony convictions often make it harder for people to start over and succeed at life after incarceration, as it’s more difficult to find gainful employment and solid housing with a felony conviction on your record.
The law will take effect in November, and commutations for prison sentences could begin by December 2019 or January 2020. There are about 1,000 prisoners who could be eligible to have their sentences commuted when the new law takes effect, and about 60,000 people who could apply for expungement to have their felony convictions removed from their criminal records.
What HB 1269 doesn’t address:
- As noted by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the new law does not fix issues like sentence enhancements, which means a lot of Oklahoma residents are serving longer sentences than they would have if they didn’t have a prior drug possession felony.
How does the expungement process work?
Lawmakers have said that the goal of the new legislation is to lessen the fines and burdens associated with expungements, but it’s still a good idea to hire a lawyer to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered.
There’s a ton of paperwork, legal notice and other requirements to successfully have your record expunged. One wrong move could jeopardize having your record wiped clean.
Jacqui Ford’s law firm is highly skilled at handling misdemeanor drug possession cases and expungements that follow. Contact her office today for a consultation.