Several recent changes to Ohio laws have been significant for our client base. One of the topics that has been particularly affected is expungement. Many our recent articles deal with the updated laws on Expungement and how more Ohioans may have the chance to have their convictions sealed/expunged. Citizens of Ohio should expect Ohio Courts to honor the new laws that open up more opportunities for expungement. In our experience, the courts do indeed uphold the expungement sections of the Revised Code just like they would any other Ohio law. However, with all of the changes and complexity of expungement law, the Court can sometimes refuse to expunge a record when there is really no reason to do so. If this happens, the defendant may think it is worth wile to appeal the case. As we will discuss in this article, we have seen success on appeal in this situation because when the definition for eligible offender is changed in the Ohio Revised Code, the Courts must use the up-to-date definition.
Review of Appeals
We wrote about the process of appeals in our article, Discussion of Appeals. To reiterate, an appellate court is a very high court. Most appellate courts handle appeals from several different counties (and most county level courts handle cases from several cities or townships). An appellate court gets involved when there is a dispute about a case in one of the counties under their jurisdiction after a judge has already ruled on the case. Notice we say “judge” because an order from a magistrate cannot be appealed. If there are objections to a magistrate’s decision, the judge must rule on the objections. If one side feels like they still have a case, they can appeal the judge’s decision. As the name implies, this is when the appellate court gets involved.
Appeals and Expungement
Now the above explanation, as well as the explanation from our appeals article may raise some questions. For example, if a judge (and potentially a magistrate) already ruled on a case, why would either side feel like they have a case? Well, if we want to answer this question, a good way to answer is with real world examples of when appeals happen, and why. Expungement cases actually provide good, clear examples of appeals and when they may be necessary, because they can be confusing. Add to that all of the recent changes, and it is no surprise that people start to get confused, even sometimes Court officials.
You see, that’s the reason why appeals happen. They exist because sometimes a court can make a decision in error, and then an appellate court has to do research into the applicable laws to see where the original Court erred and what the correct decision should have been. So, to answer, the question, one of the parties may want to appeal the case because the party or their attorney has already done extensive legal research and expects the appellate court to make a favorable decision.
In expungement cases, an appeal may clearly be necessary because the Court has a lot of different cases to consider. They may overlook one of the small aspects of a rule and/or not be quite up to date on the small but impactful series of changes that have been made to expungement laws in recent years.
This is the situation that our client was in earlier this year, and John Fisher was able to do the research to get the case expunged on appeal.
While our client was trying to expunge felony convictions, the Court said the client was not an eligible offender because there were more than two misdemeanor convictions on the client’s criminal record. We talk about the meaning of “eligible offender” in our article, “The Two Requirements for Expungement in Ohio.” For the purposes of this article, the requirements for being an eligible offender have changed several times in the past few years, and the Court was correct that the client would have been ineligible for expungement as recently as early 2021. But, given the most recent legislation, the client had no felonies more serious than the fourth or fifth degree, and none of the offenses were offenses of violence. Under the current legislation, the number of misdemeanor convictions on a person’s record usually will not become an issue unless one of the convictions is a crime of violence. Note that in this case the number of misdemeanors was the pivotal issue, but there are many other factors that can make someone ineligible for expungement/sealing of criminal records. We recommend you read our other expungement articles and consult an attorney if you have questions about your specific case.
Now, because John Fisher knew that his client’s record did, in fact, make the client an eligible offender, they decided to appeal the decision. Just having a good case is not always a guarantee that you will win on appeal, but this time the appellate process worked in the favor of our client.
Appeals are an important part of our justice system, particularly when it comes to dynamic and complicated laws such as expungement of criminal records in Ohio. They help to ensure that a Court’s decision undergoes sufficient process before affecting the rights of our citizens. If you are trying to navigate an expungement or any other type of legal battle, and you want expert help, never hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Dearie Fischer & Mathews.