At Dearie, Fischer & Mathews, LLC, we know that good people make mistakes, which can sometimes land them in Court and even in jail or prison. Unfortunately, even after you have paid your debt to society, a charge or conviction on your record can complicate many aspects of your life, including getting a new job, obtaining certain professional licenses, obtaining housing, and gaining admission to schools.
The good news is that in many cases, there are ways that these records can be sealed.
In October of 2018, may new changes were made to expand expungement opportunies for those convicted of felonies or misdemeanors in Ohio.
What is "Expunging" or "Sealing" Records in Ohio?
In Ohio, the terms "sealing" and "expunging" adult criminal records are often used interchangeably.
When a record is sealed, it is no longer available to the public through a public records search or records request. However, it is not completely destroyed. The physical and electronic records still exist, they are just not available to the public. This means, they are not available to most prospective employers or other non-government agencies. You will often hear this referred to as expungement, although there is a technical difference between sealing and expungement in Ohio law.
For the purposes of this article, we use sealing and expungement to mean the same thing, and many Courts do as well.
In expungement, all evidence of the criminal record is destroyed, both electronic and physical forms. For adults, there are limited cases where a criminal conviction can be completely expunged, but usually, a record is sealed. Complete expungement is currently available for juvenile records.
What's New in Ohio Expungement Law for 2019 and 2020?
The Ohio legislature passed significant changes to the sealing and expungement law in October of 2018.
You can now expunge multiple convictions.
You can now have as many as five felonies expunged, as long as they are felonies of the 4th or 5th degree
If you are convicted of two felonies, you can apply four years after completing your sentence and any probationary period
If convicted of three to five felonies, you can apply for sealing five years after completing your sentence and any probationary period
You can expunge unlimited misdemeanors after waiting one year from the completion of the sentence and any probationary period.
What is the Waiting Period for Criminal Record Sealing and Expungement in Ohio?
You are not able to apply for expungement right away. After your conviction, there will be a waiting period before you can apply to have your records sealed. Following your conviction, the waiting period begins after any fines and restitution have been paid, and any probationary period is successfully completed.
Waiting periods are determined by the type of conviction:
- Misdemeanors: Generally, you must wait for one year to apply if you were convicted of a misdemeanor.
- Single Felony Conviction: three year waiting period
- Two Felony Convictions: four year waiting period
- Three, Four, or Five Felony convictions: Five-year waiting period.
Am I Eligible for Expungement/Sealing of my Record in Ohio?
In Ohio law, expungement or sealing of criminal record is available to "Eligible Offenders". The definition of "eligible offender" can be complicated. Add to that the list of possible exceptions, and there is no way we could cover ever possible scenario in one article. Please call us if you believe you are eligible for expungement in Ohio.
To be considered an "eligible offender," you must first have met the waiting period requirements since the date of your conviction, including any probationary period (see above for more details on the waiting period requirements). Generally speaking, you are eligible for apply for expungement if your convictions were all non-violent, non-sex-oriented, did not involve a minor, and were either misdemeanors or felonies of the fourth or fifth degree.
A person convicted of first, second, or third degree felonies, or some first-degree misdemeanors, are not eligible for expungement of any of their offenses, even the lesser offenses.
Additionally, you are eligible to apply for expungement if you meet one of these criteria:
- Non-conviction: If you were charged with a crime and were never convicted, you are eligible to apply for expungement.
- Felony convictions: If you have five or fewer felony convictions, and all of those felonies are of the fourth or fifth degree, you may be eligible for expungement. All felonies must be non-violent, non-sexually oriented, and must not involve a minor.
- Misdemeanor Convictions: A person can have an unlimited number of misdemeanors and still be able to apply for expungement. First degree misdemeanor convictions of Domestic Violence are not expungeable.
- A combination of Felony and Misdemeanor Convictions: You may also be eligible to apply for expungement if you have a combination of one felony conviction and one or two misdemeanor convictions.
How the Court determines the number of convictions for each case can be complicated. For example, your case may have involved convictions for more than one offense. For the purposes of sealing your record, those convictions may be counted as one conviction. On the other hand, your case may involve convictions for multiple offenses, only some of which are eligible for sealing. If your case involved more than one conviction, contact our offices and we can help you sort out which, if any, of your offenses are eligible for expungement.
Should I Seal My Record Even If I Was Never Convicted?
Even if your charge was dismissed or your were acquitted at trial, the record that you were charged remains as public record. There is also a public record of any charges made in a lower Court that were not indicted when sent up to the Grand Jury.
Minor Misdemeanors, Traffic Offense, and OVI Offenses
For the purposes of Expungement and Sealing of Criminal Record, minor misdemeanors, traffic offenses, and OVI offenses are not considered convictions eligible for expungement in Ohio.
How Do I Apply for Expungement and Sealing of Record in Ohio?
To get started, you need to make an application to the Court where your conviction took place. For misdemeanors, you make an application to the Municipal or County Court where you were originally charged with the offense. For felony offenses, you make an application to the Court of Common Pleas in the county where your conviction occurred.
Each Ohio Court has its own rules and procedures for making and filing an application for expungement. Our attorneys are experienced in Warren County, Butler County, Montgomery County, Greene County, and all surrounding counties of southwest Ohio. Give our offices a call and we can help you get started on the road to liberation from your criminal past.
What Kinds of Criminal Records Can be Sealed in 2019/2020?
Most kinds of records can be sealed. Arrests for crimes that resulted in no conviction and old juvenile convictions can very often be sealed relatively easily.
Adult convictions in criminal Court may require more effort in presenting a good case to the judge in order to achieve the desired outcome. After application for expungement, your lawyer may need to make arguments on your behalf and overcome any objections Many of our clients have been able to have their records sealed even in some difficult cases.
Other conviction records may not be sealed at all. This includes convictions which carry a mandatory prison sentence, and very serious crimes, such as murder, rape, and sexual abuse of children, and many other sex crimes and violent crimes. Felonies of a high enough level cannot be suppressed either (see below).
What to Expect at the Expungement Hearing
Once your application is received, the Court will examine whether you have been sufficiently rehabilitated; this will include checking to verify that there are nor current proceedings against you, and consulting with the Probation Department and Court staff to determine is your offense is eligible for expungement and sealing. The prosecution may file objections to your application if they wish to contest the sealing of your records. As your attorneys, Dearie, Fischer & Mathews will present arguments in your favor, showing that your are reformed, and respond to any objections the prosecutor may have. The Court will then set a date for a hearing, where our attorney will argue in person before the judge on your behalf. The judge will then weigh our arguments against the objections of the prosecutor and any other considerations as to why the application should be granted or denied. The judge will usually make a ruling that same day.
If the Motion to Seal Record is granted, the judge will sign an order that your records be sealed. The Court will then notify all government agencies who have any record of your conviction, requiring them to keep your record sealed from public view. At this time, your rights are restored as if the conviction never happened.
I Was Never Indicted. Can My Charge Be Expunged?
Yes. If your case was considered by a grand jury and you were not indicted, your charge is called a "no-bill". Currently, you have to wait two years following a no-bill ruling before you can apply for expungement. Call us if you would like to expunge a no-bill on your record.
How Can Expungement Help Me?
Ohio Expungement law has become increasingly more helpful to people with a criminal past. In October of 2018, the law was expanded to allow the expungement of multiple convictions, including some felonies. In 2019, the Ohio legislature proposed additional expansion of the law which we may see come into effect in 2020 or 2021.
Expungement erases your record from public view. With a criminal record, you may be denied employment, school admissions or scholarships, housing, or other opportunities in your life. Sealing your record gives you the chance to show that you have been rehabilitated and that you wish to keep your life moving on a positive track. An expungement provides legal forgiveness of charges and convictions in your past. Once your record is sealed, you are legally allowed to say that the conviction never happened if asked by a private employer, landlord, or educational institution.
Will Anyone Have Access to My Record Once it is Sealed?
Once a record is sealed, it is as if the crime did not take place for nearly all intents and purposes. Most employers will not have access to sealed records. However, law enforcement agencies, government agencies, and Courts may still have access to your record.
Employers in government agencies and the caregiver sector may still have access to your record even if it is been sealed.
Courts retain access to your prior, sealed records. In criminal cases, the prosecutor may try to use your previous record against you, even if the conviction was sealed..
Can My Expungement Application Be Denied?
The court has the authority to deny your application request if you have not presented convincing evidence that you are sufficiently rehabilitated. The Court may also determine that the public has a right to know of your conviction. Crimes at a certain level of seriousness may be denied expungement, and applications where the offense was too recent may also be denied.
It is important that you have everything in your application in order and that you understand all of the guidelines and requirements for an expungement application. Our attorneys can help make sure your application is in order and give you your best chance at getting your application approved for sealing/expungement.
I Applied for an expungement and Was Denied. Is There Anything Else I Can Do?
Yes, please call us. We have had many clients who applied for expungement on their own and were denied because they did not know the right arguments to make or they made technical errors in their application. It is well worth hiring us to review your case and your application to make sure it is done correctly and that your interests are best represented at your expungement hearing.
Are There Some Criminal Convictions That are not Eligible for Expungement?
The following offenses are generally not eligible for expungement in Ohio:
- Convictions where the offender was subject to a mandatory prison term.
- Many sex offenses, including rape, sexual battery, sexual imposition or gross sexual imposition, and many offenses involving a minor.
- Traffic offenses such as speeding, reckless operation, and OVI are not eligible for expungement
- Violent offenses that are a Felony or Misdemeanor of the First Degree, including Domestic Violence ( there are some exceptions to this. Call us if your offense was an offense of violence.)
- Felonies of the First, Second, or Third Degree
- Multiple convictions of the same offense.
Can my felony records be sealed?
At this time, the fact that a crime is a felony does not by itself mean that it cannot be sealed, unless the convictions in question are first or second degree felonies.
As of 2019, the Ohio legislature is considering an update to felony expungement laws If passed into law, the bill in question would allow for the sealing of first, second, and third first degree felony records. It would also, however, lengthen the amount of time you would have to wait to seal records of other felonies.
Legislative Considerations for the Future
For 2020 (and beyond), the Ohio legislature is considering amending the statute to make most first-time offenses expungeable. Senate Bill 160, introduced by both a republican and a democrat in the state senate, would theoretically make all convictions sealable possible for first time offenders, with the exceptions of "murder, voluntary manslaughter, child abuse, patient abuse, kidnapping, human trafficking,terrorism, domestic violence and any sexually-based offense." Also gone would be a waiting period for cases in which a defendant was never indicted (called a "no-bill').
Senate Bill 160 also proposes that first and second degree felonies be expungeable, but only after significant waiting periods. First, second, and third degree felonies are currently not expungeable. The proposed law requires a 20-year wait after your conviction on a first degree felony to apply for expungement; you will have to wait 15 years for second degree felony. Lower level felonies would carry 10 year waiting periods. The waiting period for those convictions is currently only 3 years.
So even if your conviction is not currently eligible for expungement, keep an eye on expungement law moving forward. The law continues to expand so that people with criminal records long past will continue to see more chances at having the record sealed.
Expungement of Juvenile records
In juvenile court, minors who are determined to have violated the law are not technically "convicted" of a felony or misdemeanor, but are "adjudicated" to be an "unruly child," "delinquent," or a "juvenile traffic offender." Many of these findings can also be sealed, especially if the offender is now an adult and it has been years since the case ended.
For more information on juvenile records, read our article, "Expungement and Sealing of Juvenile Records in Ohio".
The attorneys of Dearie, Fischer & Mathews have successfully helped many clients seal their records, and are well known with excellent track records in local municipal and county Courts. Give us a call today if you believe you have a record you would like to have sealed. We will work with you every step of the way to build your case and attain the best outcome possible.