Sealing Criminal Records in Ohio

By: Holly Cline

In Ohio, adult convictions cannot be “expunged” or completely erased from your record. Instead of expungement, Ohio uses a court process called “sealing a criminal record.” When a record is sealed, the record of your conviction or criminal charges is filed separately from other persons’ records. The record still exists but it cannot be seen by most people. However, Internet websites (for example, news articles and criminal reporting blogs maintained by private citizens or corporations) are not affected by any court orders. Therefore, privately maintained records of any sealed convictions may nonetheless be available to the public.

Under Ohio law, “eligible offenders” who have been convicted of or pled guilty to certain criminal offenses can ask that the court “seal” their conviction.

Eligible Offender

An “eligible offender” is someone who has no more than two misdemeanor convictions, or one felony and one misdemeanor conviction. When a court determines if you are eligible for sealing, it will not count minor misdemeanors, most traffic offenses (except for convictions for OVI/DUI or refusing to take a breathalyzer test), speeding tickets, most convictions for driving under suspension (DUS), and most convictions for possession of marijuana against an offender’s potential eligibility.

If a person has more than two convictions, they may still be deemed an “eligible offender” if the offenses were committed at the same time or arose from the same act. A court may also consider a person an eligible offender for sealing if their convictions occurred within a three-month period and they were tried in the same court proceeding.

A court will not seal a conviction record if the applicant has any pending charges against them.

Criminal Convictions

Most misdemeanors, as well as third, fourth, and fifth degree felonies, can be sealed. However, for some offenses, the relevant criminal statute may specifically state that a particular crime is not eligible for sealing.

Convictions for first and second-degree felonies, as well as traffic offenses (including OVIs / DUIs) cannot be sealed. Additionally, any felony (regardless of its degree) with a mandatory prison sentence cannot be sealed. Almost all crimes of violence (including domestic violence and aggravated menacing that are first-degree misdemeanors), sex crimes, and offenses where the victim is a minor cannot be sealed.

Consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand whether the offense of which you were convicted is a “sealable” offense.

Applying to Seal Record of Conviction

An eligible offender may apply to seal an eligible misdemeanor offense one year after he has completed his sentence. An eligible offender may apply to seal an eligible felony offense three years after she has completed her sentence. The relevant time period does not begin to run until all court costs, fines, and restitution (as ordered by the court) have been paid.

A request to seal a criminal conviction must be filed in the same court that the offender was sentenced. The clerk of courts will give the offender a hearing date, at which time the court will evaluate and determine whether it will grant the offender’s request to seal the record. After a request has been filed, the probation department may investigate the case and prepare a report for the court. The prosecutor may also object to the expungement by filing a written objection before the hearing date.

At the hearing, the court will weigh the interests of the offender in having the official records pertaining to the case sealed against the legitimate needs (if any) of the government in maintaining the records. The court will also evaluate whether the offender has been rehabilitated and will review any available probation reports when making its decision.

Sealing Record of Dismissed Case, Acquittal, or Grand Jury “No Bill”

If the prosecutor dismisses any charges it has filed against an eligible offender, or if the offender is acquitted—either by the court or a jury—of a criminal offense, the accused may immediately file to have records of the dismissed and/or acquitted charges sealed. If the grand jury issues a “no bill” and refuses to indict a person for an offense the State alleges that person committed, that person can apply to have a “no bill” sealed two years after it is filed.

Sealing records of a dismissal, acquittal, or “no bill,” however, is not automatic. Indeed, the “eligible offender” must request that the record be sealed by filing said request in the same court that the alleged offender was charged and/or acquitted. A hearing will be scheduled, at which time the court will weigh the interests of the offender in having the official records pertaining to the case sealed against the legitimate needs (if any) of the government in maintaining the records. Significantly, any dismissed or acquitted offense—regardless of its degree—is eligible for sealing.

However, the applicant must still show that he or she is an “eligible offender” under Ohio law. Thus, if the offender was convicted of one or more charges that arose out of the same incident, while other charges were dismissed or acquitted, the offender cannot get the dismissed and/or acquitted charges sealed unless they are also eligible to get the conviction(s) sealed as well

Effect of Sealing a Criminal Record

Sealing a criminal record—even a non-conviction—may prove valuable when applying for a job or license, seeking credit, applying for educational programs, obtaining housing, and securing other opportunities. In most cases, a sealed record will not show up on a background check and can be treated as if it does not exist. In fact, after getting a record sealed, an individual may honestly mark on applications that the sealed offense does not exist.

Even if an eligible offender’s record has been sealed, law enforcement agencies, judges, prosecutors, and other governmental agencies can look at the offender’s sealed record as part of a criminal case or investigation, or if the offender is seeking a concealed carry permit. There are also certain occupations (for example, teaching, nursing, child care, law enforcement, and elderly care) that require a background check and fingerprinting. In those instances, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification & Information will be required by Sections 109.57 and 109.572 of the Ohio Revised Code to reveal the sealed records.

Other occupations and/or vocational licenses may also require that an applicant disclose his or her criminal convictions—including those that have been sealed—on their application. In these instances, candor is often more important than the existence of any sealed convictions. If you are unclear about whether you must disclose a sealed conviction, or if you have failed to disclose a sealed conviction when it should have been disclosed, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand what you are required to do under Ohio law.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from the Tyack Law Firm Co., L.P.A., or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel or representation on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, county, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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