Criminal records can create barriers in everyday life. Your record can make things like renting an apartment or finding a job difficult. Expunging or sealing your criminal record can help you move forward with fewer barriers.
Expunction (expunging) is eliminating or deleting a criminal record as if the event never occurred. On the other hand, sealing a record prevents the public from viewing the record or even discovering that the record exists, but it does live on in government files.
Formerly, Ohio law did not provide a process to expunge a criminal record; rather, they only had a process for sealing a conviction. However, starting in April 2023, a new Ohio law allows Ohioans to expunge some criminal records. Generally speaking, you are eligible to 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, fifth, or sometimes third degree. The process for expunging a record is essentially the same as for sealing a record, which this article discusses.
New Ohio laws (as of April 2023) allow more people to seal criminal records. So, even if you were ineligible for sealing before, you may be eligible now.
Are There Any Criminal Convictions That Do Not Qualify for Expungement or Sealing?
- First and second-degree felonies, such as murder, rape, kidnapping, and other violent offenses, cannot be sealed or expunged
- Third-degree felonies when the applicant has more than two
- Traffic offenses, including DUIs and DWIs
- Domestic violence convictions and violations of protection orders
- Crimes against children under age 13, except for non-payment of child support
- Any sex crimes where the person is still required to register as a sex offender
- Crimes in which the applicant was required to serve a mandatory jail term are not eligible for sealing. If they were eligible for probation, they may be able to seal that conviction
Is there a Limit to the Number of Convictions that Can Be Expunged or Sealed in Ohio?
Yes. Typically, only one conviction can be sealed. An important exception to this rule is when multiple convictions result from one criminal act in which the offender received two or more convictions based on the same incident. Depending on the facts of such a situation, the offender may be eligible to seal all related convictions.
In addition, Ohio’s sealing of criminal convictions statute mostly pertains to first-time offenders.
When Can I Apply for My Criminal Conviction in Ohio to be Sealed?
The timing of making a request is different if the conviction is for a felony or a misdemeanor,
An eligible offender convicted of a felony may file a request to seal the conviction information of the case three (3) years after the sentence is finally discharged (time served plus probation or parole). For misdemeanor convictions, it is one (1) year after final discharge.
Your request will be denied if you have any pending criminal cases when you apply, including warrants, open traffic violations, being on probation, or being on community control. All fines and restitution must be paid, and the waiting period must end.
What Documents Do I Need in Order to Seal My Records in Ohio?
You need the following information or items to apply to seal your record in Ohio:
- Get a certified copy of the final court order for your conviction. This is a document known as a “Judgment Order of Conviction.” If you did not save this from when you were convicted, you may be able to get a copy from the clerk of the court office located at the courthouse where the conviction occurred. You may be required to pay a fee for this document.
- Complete the “Application for Sealing of a Criminal Record” and the “Judgment Entry for Sealing.” You can get these forms from the court clerk at the courthouse where you are applying or from the court’s website.
- Make three copies of the application, judgment entry, and the order of conviction. To file, bring all three copies to the court clerk where your conviction occurred.
- Bring the filing fee for your application. If you cannot pay, you may be able to complete a poverty affidavit instead of payment. You must pay the fee or get court approval of a poverty affidavit to file your application.
What Happens After I File My Application to Seal My Records?
After you file your request to seal your criminal conviction in Ohio, you can expect the following steps to occur:
- The court will set a hearing date 45-90 days out and will send you notice. Make sure you watch for the hearing date in the mail or contact the court clerk to see if a date has been set. You must attend the hearing or risk your application being denied or dismissed.
- The court will notify the state prosecutor’s office of your request to seal.
- If the prosecutor wants to object to your request, meaning they do not want your conviction to be unsealed, they must file a written response before the hearing date and include their reasons and justification for objecting.
- At the hearing, the court will consider your reasons for wanting the record sealed, including how your criminal record is hurting you. Examples of common problems your record might be giving you include making it hard to find a job or a place to live. You will also want to explain any steps you have taken toward rehabilitation (for example, if your crime was related to using illegal drugs, your admission to and completion of a drug treatment facility will show rehabilitation. You may mention going to therapy and removing yourself from the company of other drug users. The court will also consider any objections by the state prosecutor and what steps you’ve taken toward rehabilitation. The court can consider any other factors the court deems relevant to determining whether to grant the motion to seal.
- If your request is granted, the court will issue an order to seal the record.
What is the court looking for in deciding whether to seal a record? The court will weigh your need to have the conviction sealed against the public’s interest in having such information available. The court’s focus is on public safety concerns. Be prepared to argue why sealing the record is necessary and that it creates little to no harm to the public.
If you make it to step five, then you have successfully had your Ohio criminal record sealed. In case there is a mistake or misunderstanding in the future, make sure to retain important documents from the process, especially including the order that seals the record,
Do I Need a Lawyer to Seal My Criminal Conviction in Ohio?
An Ohio expungement lawyer can help you determine whether your conviction qualifies for sealing, which can be difficult to determine in Ohio. A lawyer can also prepare the application and obtain the necessary documentation to submit the request.
A lawyer can represent you at the hearing to explain your reasons for wanting the record sealed, and this will improve your chances of success.