Appeals Court Ruling Drops Felony DUI to Misdemeanor for Some

In 2011, Oklahoma passed a law that would elevate a DUI charge from a misdemeanor to a felony if the arrest was the second DUI within ten years of the first, and the defendant pleaded guilty or no contest to the first offense. In some cases, the law was applied retroactively to individuals who completed a deferred sentence prior to the enactment of the law. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the dismissal of a felony DUI charge against Denzel Salathiel, 60, Oklahoma City. Salathiel pleaded guilty to DUI in 2009 and was given a deferred sentence. Upon his completion of the deferred sentence, his case was dismissed, which means that Salathiel was never convicted of DUI. In 2012, after the enactment of the law requiring a felony charge if a person is arrested within 10 years of a guilty or nolo contendere plea for DUI, Salathiel was arrested again and charged with a felony. Prosecutors argued before the appeals court that the law applied to everyone who was convicted or pleaded guilty to DUI, regardless of when their previous sentence ended. The court ruled, however, that such a law could not be applied retroactively. This decision means that hundreds of pending felony DUI cases could be reduced to misdemeanors, if the initial sentences were completed prior to Nov. 1, 2011. A deferred sentence is a type of judgment that allows a defendant to complete probation in lieu of jail time, particularly for first offenses and misdemeanor sentences. In such a case, a defendant would plead guilty to an offense, and the judge would delay, or defer, judgment until the defendant successfully completed all terms of the sentence, which may include community service, drug and alcohol treatment, and no other run-ins with the law. If the defendant fails to comply with the terms of probation, the prosecutor may file a motion to accelerate, or move sentencing up without waiting for the probationary term to end. In this case, the defendant would be convicted and may be sentenced to jail. However, if the defendant adheres to the terms of his or her probation, at the end of the deferment, the court records will be updated to reflect a plea of "not guilty," and the case will be dismissed. There is no criminal conviction. The court record may be expunged according to Section 991(c) of state law, and the deferment may be eligible for complete expungement if the defendant meets the criteria outlined in Section 18.

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