We know a lot of people’s mistakes landed them in court – even jail or prison. Sadly, such arrest, trial, or conviction leaves a dent which lingers on offenders’ records years after sentence completion.
The resultant effects bite harder when an accused or an ex-convict seeks a new job, an apartment, professional certification, scholarships, and the like.
Thankfully, each state in the U.S makes individual provisions for record sealing and expungement.
October 2018 saw the introduction of certain expungement eligibility requirements for misdemeanor and felony convicts in Ohio.
Read on to find out the criteria and step-by-step process to expunging a felony in Ohio.
Felony Expunging Vs. Felony Sealing in Ohio
In Ohio – and even across the U.S – ‘Expungement‘ and ‘Sealing‘ are widely thought to mean the same thing. This isn’t entirely correct.
As the name suggests, sealed criminal records are denied public access. This means, such criminal histories will no longer be searchable via public background check search or through a record request.
However, sealed records are not actually ‘destroyed.’ Although they are not accessible to the public, electronic documentation and physical files still exist. Only government agencies will have access to them after the court-ordered sealing.
So, when prospective landlords or employers do a background check, they won’t find the sealed records on your history. This effect makes most people confuse record sealing for expungement.
Although expungement and record sealing have some similarities, they are two different alternatives to concealing one’s records.
Unlike sealing, expungement involves the complete ‘destruction’ of all forms of records relating to criminal arrest, trial, or conviction. That is, the ‘elimination’ of both physical and electronic evidence.
Adults Vs Juveniles
In Ohio, expungement provisions differ for adults and juveniles.
Expunging adult offenders’ records can be pretty complicated. Adult offenders are mostly granted record sealing.
Juveniles, on the other hand, can get their records destroyed with relative ease.
Waiting Period for Record Expungement in Ohio
Ohio state laws allow expunge-able offenders to petition for expungement after a specified waiting period. The waiting period normally counts from the day all court fines, charges, court-ordered community services, probation conditions, and restitution are completely satisfied.
That said, the waiting period varies, based on the offense:
Misdemeanors require a one year waiting period before offenders are eligible to petition for expungement
Single felony demands a 3-year waiting period before an expungement petition
A Two Felony sentence requires a 4-year waiting period
Three to five felony sentences require a 5-year waiting period.
Eligibility for Felony Sealing / Expungement in Ohio
Only “Eligible Offenders” can get felony expungement or sealing. Defining an ‘eligible offender’ can be somewhat complicated. However, here are some eligibility requirements:
- A petitioner must meet the required minimum waiting period
- Non-Sexual, non-violent offenses, as well as offenses involving minors, are hardly ever expunged.
- Expungement requests for fourth- and fifth-degree crimes stand a good chance of approval.
- First, second, and third classes of felonies and first-grade misdemeanor offenses hardly get expunged.
Here are other conditions that qualify one for expungement
- Persons charged with a criminal offense but were never convicted can make an expungement petition
- Persons with less than five felony convictions, all of which are 4th or 5th-degree offenses
- Persons with multiple misdemeanors still qualifies – except first-degree Domestic Violence convicts
- Persons with records of a felony conviction and, at most, two misdemeanors are eligible for expungement
Crimes Ineligible for Expungement in Ohio
Generally, the following conditions automatically disqualify anyone for expungement in Ohio:
- If the applicant’s sentence involved a compulsory prison term.
- Sexually related offenses such as battery, rape, gross sexual imposition, sexual imposition, and a range of crimes with minors as victims.
- Traffic infractions such as reckless operation, over speeding, and OVI
- Violence-related felony or First Degree misdemeanor, including Domestic Violence.
- First, Second, and Third Degree Felony
- Repeat conviction for the same crime.
How to Apply for Expungement in Ohio
Expungement in Ohio begins with applying to the court where the sentence was ordered.
While misdemeanor expungement applications are sent to the county court or municipal where your initial charges were served, felony applications are forwarded to the Court of Common Pleas in the jurisdiction you were convicted.
Expungement rules and regulations for filing an expungement petition differ across Ohio Courts.
Expungement Hearing Process
On receipt of your expungement application, the court tries to verify your rehabilitation claims.
They may check records to confirm there are no pending charges, that you have satisfied all court orders, and have paid your debt to society in full.
The court then consults the court staff and Probation Department to confirms your expungement/sealing eligibility status.
Remember that your prosecutor reserves the right to challenge your expungement petition. This explains the need for an experienced expungement attorney to plead your case, counter your prosecutor’s objection, and present enough reason why you should be considered for an expungement.
Having confirmed your eligibility, the court sets an expungement hearing date when you are to argue your case.
During the hearing, the presiding judge weighs your arguments with your prosecutor’s, and factors in other considerations that will influence your petition denial or approval. After due reviews, the judge gives a ruling – same day, in most cases.
Where the record sealing/expungement petition is granted, the court immediately signs the sealing order. This legal order compels all agencies with your criminal files to remove them from the public domain.
This order is trailed by the restoration of all rights, as though there was never an arrest, charge, trial, or conviction.
Benefits of an Expungement
A successful expungement process locks the public out of your criminal records.
Criminal records on background checks could ruin one’s chances of securing a job, an apartment, school scholarships and admission, and other life opportunities.
A sealed record offers you an opportunity to begin life again and show how much you have left your criminal past and ready to reintegrate with society.
So when an educational institution, prospective landlord, or employer ask about your records, you can truthfully and legally say you never had a conviction.
My Expungement application was denied. What next?
Most people are denied expungement or sealing simply because of their inexperience with the legal process. If you handled the petition process on your own initially, chances are high you ignorantly made some technical errors. You may need to consult an experienced attorney to review your case and walk you through the right legal processes.
When filing a petition for expungement/sealing, know that your chances of approval is largely dependent on some factors. These factors include, among others, the satisfaction of minimum waiting period, nature of felony/misdemeanor, the fulfillment of all court orders, and correct filing of the paperwork needed in the process.
While expungement has a more potent effect than sealing, both will do you great good. In the end, they both offer you an excellent opportunity to turn over a new leaf, get the desired housing, meaningful job placement, access to loans, professional certifications, and many other benefits.
An expungement offers one-time criminals a new slate to begin again and live life to the fullest.