How to Expunge Your Driving Record in Ohio

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It makes sense to expunge offenses on a driving record, if that is possible under state law. In Ohio, new expungement laws have expanded the type and number of offenses that can be sealed, removing them from public view.

However, crimes involving the operation of a motor vehicle are not eligible for expungement in the state. The only offenses that can be expunged in Ohio are those that have occurred in very specific circumstances.

Ohio's Expungement Laws

While Ohio laws about removing violations and convictions from a person's criminal history include the label "expungement," they are more accurately described as sealing a record. In fact, in Ohio the two terms – sealing and expunging – are often used as synonyms. However, there is a technical difference between the two.

When a criminal record is expunged, all evidence of the criminal record is eliminated, both the paper trail and electronic material. The information is destroyed and cannot be located for any purpose by anyone. Generally, in Ohio, this does not happen for adult criminal records; it is reserved solely for juvenile records.

Record Sealing in Ohio

"Sealing" a record means that a member of the public will be unable to locate the information through a public records search or records request.

But these records are not destroyed – both physical and electronic records still exist and are available to law enforcement, government agencies, and the judicial system, but cannot be located or reviewed by prospective private employers or landlords.

In Ohio law, this type of sealing is referred to both in the law and in conversation as "expungement." Expungement laws were updated and amended recently to expand the type and number of offenses that are eligible.

Two Requirements for Expungement

Recent amendments to the expungement laws created a complex system that permits expanded sealing of records in the state when certain conditions are met. The details of the new laws are difficult to sort through, so it may be necessary to obtain legal advice to determine exactly what offenses qualify for sealing.

However, two eligibility requirements are clear and at the heart of qualifying to apply for expungement in Ohio:

  • The offense must be expungeable.
  • The applicant must be an eligible offender.

Traffic Violations in Ohio

When one talks of expunging a traffic record in Ohio, it is important to understand that different types of offenses can result from driving a vehicle. Most frequently, they are moving violations punished by either fines or points against a driving record that can, if enough are accumulated in a short period, cause a driver to lose their license.

These driving offenses fall into three levels of seriousness:

  • Minor misdemeanors​ like speeding tickets, punishable by fines and/or points.
  • First-degree misdemeanors​, such as DUIs or driving under the influence of drugs, which can result in jail time and suspension of driving privileges, loss of driver’s license or jail time.
  • Criminal offenses​ causing injury or death to another individual, which can result in jail or prison time.

Expungement of Driving Violations

The first step in determining whether Ohio permits expungement of a driving record is to see if state laws permit the expungement of a specific driving violation. Some types of offenses are specifically excepted from the expungement procedures by Ohio state law. These include:

  • Sexual crimes of violence like rape, sexual battery, gross sexual imposition, pandering obscenity involving a minor or impaired person.
  • Crimes of violence that are misdemeanors in the first degree or felonies.
  • Crimes involving the operation of a motor vehicle.

In addition, there is a waiting period after crimes are committed before any particular crime can be considered for expungement. The period starts after an offender completes their sentence and any probation.

Recent Changes to Wait Time Rules

Recent amendments to the laws base the wait time not on how many crimes a person has committed, but on the degree of the criminal conviction. Under Ohio Revised Code Section 2953.32, the general waiting periods run from:

  • 1 year after a misdemeanor, fourth- or fifth-degree felony conviction.
  • 3 years after a third-degree felony conviction.
  • 7 years after a conviction of soliciting improper compensation.
  • 1 year after a bail forfeiture.

Offenders Eligible for Expungement

In addition to checking if the violation is eligible for expungement, it is also necessary to consider if the offender is eligible. There are two ways that someone can be an eligible offender under the amended laws, and they are separate and mutually exclusive. The offender must have one of these:

  • Record with no violent crimes and nothing more serious than a fourth-degree felony.
  • Two felonies or fewer; four misdemeanors or fewer; or two felonies and two misdemeanors, but no other crimes.

Expunging Traffic Offenses in Ohio

As described above, the general rule in Ohio is that traffic violations cannot be expunged or the driver's record sealed. However, the recent amendments to the law created an exception, albeit a very limited one.

It permits a traffic conviction to be expunged and sealed if and when dismissed charges arise out of the same case and both are expunged and sealed. The court accomplishes this by viewing the two charges together as one case.

This exception takes a traffic conviction out of the general rule that traffic violations cannot be expunged if the driver was charged with a crime resulting from the same incident that resulted in the traffic violation, and that criminal charge was dismissed. The court can and sometimes does treat the two as one case and seals both at the same time.

Expungement Applications in Practice

How does this work in the real world? If a driver is stopped, for example, for speeding on the highway, and law enforcement suspects that they are also driving under the influence. Criminal DUI charges are filed against the driver.

If the driver gets that DUI offense dismissed, for any reason, but pleads guilty to speeding, the driver can return to court and file an application for expungement/sealing of the records for both the dismissed DUI charge and the speeding conviction.

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