Criminal Law

Table of Contents
Oklahoma Bar Association, since 1904

Criminal Law

What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

Felony: A felony is a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in the State Penitentiary usually for more than one year.

Misdemeanor: All non-felony crimes are misdemeanors. Unless the law says otherwise, a misdemeanor is punishable by a fine not exceeding $500, by a county jail sentence of not more than one year, or both.

All non-felony crimes are misdemeanors. Unless the law says otherwise, a misdemeanor is punishable by a fine not exceeding $500, by a county jail sentence of not more than one year, or both.

A felony conviction can have other consequences besides imprisonment and/or fines. Potential employers routinely check criminal records. If you have a felony conviction on your record, it could prevent you from obtaining a job in certain industries, prevent you from obtaining certain professional licenses and even cause you to lose a professional license obtained prior to the felony conviction. A felony conviction also places restrictions on some civil rights, such as the right to own and possess a firearm, the right to vote and the right to serve on a jury.

What happens when you are charged with a crime?

In Oklahoma, anyone over 18 charged with a crime may be tried as an adult. If you are convicted of either a misdemeanor or a felony, the court can impose a fine and jail time. Convictions for some offenses require you to register as a sex offender. Even if you are under 18, there are certain crimes for which you are punishable as an adult in Oklahoma.

What should you do if you are stopped by the police?

Police StopIf you are in a vehicle, stop immediately. If you resist or try to run away, you can be charged with escaping or interfering with a police officer, both of which are misdemeanors. You do not have to consent to a police officer's request to search your car or your belongings. However, a police officer may make an immediate search of the area around you if he suspects a drug or alcohol violation or is concerned for his personal safety. Remember, be respectful. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints, it may be best to make them later to the police officer's supervisor or to an attorney.

What happens if you are arrested?

If you are arrested for anything other than a minor traffic offense, you will be searched, handcuffed and taken to the police station. While you are in jail, the police are required to tell you your rights before they question you.
Under Arrest
  • You do not have to answer any question or make any statements other than to give basic information such as your name and address.
  • You have the right to have an attorney present and to make as many phone calls as is reasonably necessary for you to reach an attorney. Once you request an attorney, you do not have to answer any questions whatsoever.
  • If you decide to answer a police officer's questions, you have the right to stop answering questions at any time.
  • You have the right to a court-appointed attorney to represent you in court if you cannot afford one.
  • You should assume that any statement you make can be used against you in court.
NOTE: You must unequivocally invoke your right to remain silent and your right to a lawyer. Simply remaining silent will not trigger the constitutional protection.

What should you do while you are in custody?

Speaking with a LawyerRemain calm and polite. You will be treated better than if you are rude and hostile. Do not discuss the facts of your case with other people in jail. Even if you have not committed a crime, you should speak with an attorney before answering any questions or making any statements. Any statement you make while in custody, to anyone (including other persons being held in jail), may be used in evidence against you.

What happens when you are taken before a judge?

Before a JudgeYour first appearance before a judge is called an "arraignment." At this time, the judge will tell you the charges against you and the penalties for those charges. The judge will set bail or a bond amount for you. This is how much money you must give to the court to get out of jail until the trial. The money is to make sure you will return for your next court appearance. You also may be released on your personal identity (or that of your lawyer's if you have a lawyer). This means you will not have to put up any money or bond. Before a judge will release you on this type of bond, the judge will look at the charges, your work record, any criminal record and your ties to the community.

What are the penalties for possessing or distributing drugs?

DrugsDistribution, or possession with intent to distribute, of a Schedule I or II drug that is a narcotic, LSD, or certain other substance is a felony. You can be sent to jail for a minimum of 5 years to life and fined $100,000. The court must sentence you to at least five years in prison with no possibility of a deferred sentence or probation for a second offense. Examples of classifications of these drugs include:

Schedule I
  • Heroin
  • LSD
Schedule II
  • Methamphetamines
  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
Possession of a Schedule I or II drug is a felony punishable by a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and a fine of $5,000.

Possession of a Schedule III, IV or V drugs, or a very small amount of marijuana, is a misdemeanor punishable by a jail term of up to 1 year and a $1,000 fine. A second offense is a felony punishable by a jail term of not less than 2 years or more than 10. Possession near a school or park carries double the sentence. However, a second offense of possessing a small amount of marijuana is a felony and you can be sent to jail from (2 to 10) years and fined $5,000.

DrugsSchedule III
  • Tylenol with Codeine
  • Vicodin
  • Neostene
Schedule IV
  • Valium
  • Diet drugs (for example, Pondimin, Falwin, Fastin, Lonamin)
Schedule V
  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Lomotil
  • Lofene
  • Broncholate CS
NOTE: In Oklahoma, "possession with intent" to distribute may be inferred by the amount of the substance in the person's possession. Drug violations in or around schools, colleges, vo-techs, public or state parks and recreation centers increase the punishment, and a violator must serve 50 percent of the sentence on a first offense and 90 percent of the sentence on a second offense before becoming eligible for early release (or credit toward the sentence).

When can you buy beer or alcohol?

In Oklahoma, you must be at least 21 years old to buy beer or alcohol. If you buy, or even attempt to buy, beer or alcohol if you are not 21, you can be arrested, fined and jailed. If you use a fake I.D. to buy beer or alcohol, you can be convicted of a misdemeanor, fined and have your driver license taken away.

If you are under 21 years of age it is illegal to:
  • Be in possession of beer or alcohol.
  • Be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while in public.
  • Attempt to purchase alcohol with or without a fake I.D.
  • Enter and remain in a bar.
  • Drink any amount of alcohol and drive.
  • Transport any alcoholic beverages.