Sometimes it is possible to officially overlook mistakes, at least when it comes to entanglements with the criminal justice system.
Laws governing expungement and record sealing—two mechanisms that block the public from reviewing official arrest or court records—vary from state to state, with Ohio allowing virtually automatic sealing for those who have been falsely accused, and great leeway for individuals convicted of crimes for which the sentences did not involve prison time.
Why Seek Record Sealing?
Sealing public records removes the files from public purview, while expunging them destroys the documents and electronic files. Ohio permits record sealing in a number of situations, but expungement is allowed only for juvenile records.
Sealing a record does not, however, guarantee that it never will be accessed. The sealed information remains accessible to law enforcement agencies such as the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and the FBI and to some non-law enforcement employers working with children or the elderly. Most businesses and landlords will not find the information during routine records searches, and people with sealed records legally can respond "no" when asked if they have been convicted or accused of a crime.
What Records Can Be Sealed?
Any non-conviction or juvenile offense can be sealed in Ohio, but motor vehicle violations cannot. Most first-time convictions for non-violent misdemeanors and minor felonies can be sealed. The state's guidelines for crimes that never can be sealed are complicated, so it is worthwhile to consult an attorney to help determine if a certain case is eligible. There are broad categories of offenses that always are ineligible:
- Any offense involving a prison term
- Any sexual offense
- Any felony or first-degree misdemeanor if a minor was a victim
For records that are eligible for sealing, there is a one-year waiting period following final resolution of misdemeanors and a three-year wait for felonies. Juvenile records may be sealed two years after final discharge and expunged any time after they are sealed; expungement is automatic once the person turns 23 or five years after the incident, whichever comes first.
What Is the Process for Sealing Records?
Begin by contacting the clerk for the court in which the crime was prosecuted or adjudicated to make sure that you have the proper forms and all necessary information. Applications vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and sometimes there will even be different forms for convictions and nonconvictions, so it is crucial to use the proper form.
Next, file the completed application in the court that handled the case and pay the filing fee if the request is to seal a conviction; there is no filing fee for nonconvictions. In most courts the application will require information such as the date of the charge, date of the conviction if any, date any probation was terminated and date of birth. Some courts will conduct hearings that require a personal appearance; others do not.
Unlike many states in which a pardon forgives the crime but the record of it remains publicly accessible, a pardon of executive clemency in Ohio officially erases the crime and allows individuals to legitimately respond "no" when asked about convictions. The pardon process takes six to eight months, and the application packet is challenging. If the pardon is approved, a warrant of pardon is granted that can be taken to the court clerk's office in the county where the offense occurred, along with a request that the records be sealed.
Seeking an Expungement Attorney in Ohio
Ohio record-sealing procedures can be complicated, and because they vary widely from county to county it is advisable to consult a local Ohio expungement attorney for help determining eligibility and for assistance with the filing process.