Ohio is one of several states that has taken measures to help residents seal their criminal records. Now, a new state law is giving more people the opportunity to suppress past convictions.
Senate Bill 143 amended the definition of "eligible offender" who may apply for sealing under the Conviction Record Sealing Law. Previously the law only permitted the sealing of one felony and one misdemeanor conviction or two misdemeanor convictions, if the misdemeanors were not for the same offense.
Now, a person who has been convicted of two misdemeanors, regardless of whether or not they are the same offense, also can apply to have his or her record sealed. The bill, championed by State Sen. William Seitz of Cincinnati, went into effect Sept. 19.
Under the new law, if a person has two convictions for the same crime, he or she still may be eligible. For example, if a person is convicted of a misdemeanor possession of marijuana one year and convicted of the same crime the following year, the records still could be sealed.
It is important to know that Ohio practices the criminal sealing of records rather than expungement. Sealing means the record still exist, but it generally may not be viewed or examined by others, including the public. Only juvenile records may be expunged.
Some adult convictions cannot be sealed. Offenses in Ohio that cannot be sealed include any felony of the first or second degree; most misdemeanor and felony convictions where the victim is younger than 18; and violent offenses. Examples of violent offenses include:
- Assault (unless it is a misdemeanor)
- Sexual battery
Most sexual offenses are not eligible to be sealed, including illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. In addition, several automobile-related offenses cannot be sealed, such as DUI, hit and runs and street racing.
The process to seek the sealing of a record is the same under the new law, but it does allow a person to request the sealing of multiple records in one application and for one fee. Someone who believes they are eligible to have their record sealed is required to file an application with the court, and submit a filing fee of $50. The fee now will be the same regardless of the number of records the application requests to have sealed.
Once the application is filed, the court will set a date for a hearing to determine whether the conviction should be sealed. The prosecutor will be notified of the hearing, and he or she will have the chance to file an objection to the application in which there must be specific reasons why the application should be denied.
The court will determine if the applicant is a first offender and if criminal proceedings are pending against the applicant. The court also will decide if the applicant has been sufficiently rehabilitated to the court's satisfaction while considering the prosecution's objections and weighing the applicant's interests in sealing the record.
If the court decides the offender's record should be sealed, the court will order all official records pertaining to the case sealed, and the proceedings will be considered to not have occurred. This could give offenders a fresh start and the opportunity to get their lives on track.
Ohio residents who previously were not able to have a record sealed can reapply if the conviction meets the new requirements. Sealing a criminal record does not erase the history entirely, but it can make it less visible to the public.
Read the full bill analysis here.