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Oklahoma Supreme Court Announces Drug Court Dismissal of Charges After Successful Completion of Drug Program Entitles Defendant to Immediate Expungement

by Douglas Ankney

On December 18, 2018, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma ruled that when a drug court dismisses charges after a defendant’s successful completion of a treatment program, then the defendant is entitled to have the record expunged.

In July 2009, a petitioner identified as “D.A.,” was sentenced by the McClain County District Court to a five year deferred sentence for Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance (“CDS”). In October of 2010, D.A. was arrested on two counts of obtaining a CDS. A plea deal provided that, upon successful completion of drug court, the latest two counts would be dismissed. If she failed to complete the program, she would be sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

After D.A.’s successful completion of the program, the drug court dismissed the two counts on May 5, 2015. In July 2017, she filed a petition for expungement of both of her arrests, charges, and court dispositions pursuant to 22 O.S. Supp. 2016 § 18(7). 

The following month, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (“OSBI”) objected to D.A.’s petition. The OSBI argued that D.A. did not qualify for expungement because her plea deal, participation in the drug court program, and subsequent dismissal of her charges constituted a “completion of a deferred judgment” pursuant to 22 O.S. Supp. 2016 §§ 18(7) and 18(9).2. As such, D.A. would be required to wait five years and would not qualify for expungement until May 2020.

In September 2017, the trial court determined that a dismissal after completion of a drug court is not the same as a “dismissal following the completion of a deferred judgment or delayed sentence,” which is excluded from expungement eligibility under 22 O.S. Supp. 2016 § 18(7). Accordingly, the trial court granted the petition, and the OSBI appealed.

The Supreme Court began its analysis by agreeing with D.A. that the term “completion of a deferred judgment” as used in the statute does not apply to the drug court program because it was not D.A.’s sentence that was deferred, but in lieu of incarceration, she committed to the program and completed it. The Court then characterized drug courts as “an anomaly,” requiring separate judicial processing differing in practice from traditional adversarial prosecution. 

For example, a drug court judge has to recognize relapses and restarts as part of the rehabilitation process. Offenders are not violated in the traditional sense but are held accountable for relapses by increasingly harsher sanctions rather than removal from the program. The program is rigorous and much more demanding than any other diversionary sentence or community service.  

After a discussion on the legislative intent of both the drug court program and the expungement statute, the Court held “the Legislature did not intend to include drug court dismissals within §§ 18(7)’s and (9)’s terms, which refer to charges that have been ‘dismissed following the completion of a deferred judgment or delayed sentence’ to exclude them from expungement or wait five years after dismissal to seek expungement.” Therefore, the Court instructed that expungement may be granted immediately following drug court dismissal for successfully completing the program. 

The Court explained, “One obvious purpose of sealing and destruction of the drug court case file is to protect a successful participant from being denied employment based on their criminal conduct, addiction, and subsequent conquering of the addiction. Another obvious purpose is that this process is consistent with the same overall purpose of drug court because it allows people who commit to and succeed in the program to move on with their lives, and to remove the stigma such past drug use might cause.”

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision granting the petition for expungement. See: D.A. v. Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, 2018 OK 102 (2018). 

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Related legal case

D.A. v. Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation



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