Law You Can Use: Understanding How Criminal Records Are Sealed

JoeBurkeLogo_presented3Q: What, exactly, is a sealing?

A: Eligible offenders convicted of certain types of crimes can ask the court to “expunge” (seal) their convictions. If the court seals your convictions, those convictions are no longer in the public record. Courts seal records so that eligible offenders can move on with their lives without the stigma of a criminal conviction.

Q: Who qualifies for sealing?

A: 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 consider the following offenses: minor misdemeanors, most traffic offenses (with the exception of 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 (which is generally a minor misdemeanor).

Joseph Burke Law_WEB4Q: Might I be considered an eligible offender even though I have more than two convictions?

A: Maybe. If your offenses were committed at the same time, or arose from the same act, the court still may find you to be an eligible offender. Also, if your convictions occurred within a three-month period, and you were tried in the same court proceeding, you may be an eligible offender for sealing. It is up to the court to decide if you are an eligible offender.

Q: What kinds of criminal convictions can be sealed?

A: Most misdemeanors and third, fourth and fifth degree felonies can be sealed, unless a criminal statute specifically states that a particular crime is not eligible.

Q: What kinds of criminal convictions are not eligible to be sealed?

A: Traffic offenses, including OVIs/DUIs, cannot be sealed. Additionally, you cannot seal first and second-degree felonies, and any felony with a mandatory prison sentence. Finally, 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. However, first degree misdemeanor assault and domestic violence menacing (a fourth degree misdemeanor) may be sealed.

Q: How soon after an offense can I apply for sealing?

A: You may apply for sealing if one year has passed since your sentence ended for a misdemeanor and three years for a felony. For example, if the court sentenced you to two years of probation for a misdemeanor offense, you could file for a sealing one year after your last day of probation. If your conviction is for a felony, you have to wait three years after the end of your sentence. In addition, the one or three-year time period generally does not begin until you pay any restitution you might owe, as well as fines and court costs.

Q: Assuming I am an eligible offender and my offense qualifies for sealing, how do I apply?

A: Your request for sealing should be filed in the court where you were sentenced. Once you apply, the court will set a hearing date. The probation department will usually investigate your case and prepare a report for the court to use to determine whether to grant your request. The prosecutor may challenge the sealing request by filing an objection before the hearing date.

Q: How does the court decide whether to seal my conviction?

A: The court will determine if you have been rehabilitated, and it will weigh your interest in clearing your name against the government’s need to allow public access to your records. The court will review the probation report to see how you have behaved since the conviction.

Q: Will the court automatically seal my case if it was dismissed, if I had a “not guilty” verdict, or if the grand jury issued a “no bill” and refused to indict me?

A: No. You must follow the procedure outlined in this article to get the records sealed. There is no waiting period to file for sealing a dismissal or not guilty verdict. A person may apply to have a “no bill” sealed two years after it is filed.

Q: Can anyone access my sealed conviction?

A: Yes, in limited situations. The law allows certain people to see your sealed record. If you apply for certain types of employment (such as caring for an older adult, working for a children’s services agency, working for a bank or as a police or corrections officer), or for a state vocational license, the employer or state agency may be able to access your sealed records as part of its application process. In addition, the police may be able to access your sealed records as part of a criminal case or investigation, or if you are seeking a concealed carry permit.

This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Professor Joann Sahl and Attorney Paul Zindle of the University of Akron School of Law. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek the advice of a licensed attorney.

Joseph Burke Law_WEB4

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