In the state of Ohio, many types of misdemeanor records can be expunged, or sealed, following application to the court. This includes a minor misdemeanor (misdemeanor in the fourth degree) like that for an Ohio disorderly conduct charge. The rules regarding expungement in Ohio are set forth in the Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2953.
Ohio's Expungement Laws
Ohio laws about removing convictions from an individual's criminal history speak in terms of "expungement." However, these laws are more accurately described as sealing a record. Although Ohio seems to use sealing and expunging as synonyms, the fact is that there is a technical difference between the two.
If a criminal record is expunged, the court eliminates every piece of evidence of the criminal record. This includes the paper trail as well as all electronic material. The destroyed information cannot be located for any purpose by anyone. Generally, in Ohio, this is reserved solely for juvenile records. It does not happen in adult record expungements.
In general parlance, "sealing" a record means only that the record is not available to a member of the public. Neither a potential employer doing a background check nor a nosy neighbor will be able to locate the information through a public records search or records request.
Sealing Records in Ohio State
But the sealed records are not destroyed. All physical and electronic records still exist and are available to law enforcement, government agencies, and the judicial system. "Sealing" simply means that the records cannot be located or reviewed by private individuals or companies.
In Ohio law, actual sealing is not termed "sealing." Rather, it is referred to both in the law and in parlance as "expungement." Ohio's expungement laws were updated and amended recently, and these changes expanded both the type and the number of offenses that are eligible for expungement.
Core Requirements for Expungement
Amendments to the Ohio expungement laws created a complex legal framework that permits expanded sealing of records in the state when certain conditions are met. The details of the new laws are overlapping and somewhat complex, so don't hesitate to seek legal advice to determine which criminal offenses qualify for sealing.
Core requirements for expungement are clear, however. Two requirements are at the center of expungement qualification in Ohio: The offense must be expungeable, and the applicant must be an eligible offender.
Expungement of Offenses in Ohio
The first step in determining whether Ohio permits expungement of a misdemeanor record is to determine whether state laws permit the expungement of a specific crime. Some types of offenses are specifically excepted from the expungement procedures by Ohio state law. These include:
- Sexual crimes of violence including rape, sexual battery, gross sexual imposition, and 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.
Expungement Waiting Periods
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 jail time and any period of probation. Recent amendments to the laws base the wait time not on how many crimes a person has committed, but on the degree of the crime.
Under ORS Section 2953.32, the general waiting periods run from:
- 1 year after a misdemeanor and 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 determining whether a criminal conviction is eligible for expungement, it is also necessary to consider whether an offender is eligible. There are two ways that someone can be an eligible offender under current Ohio law, and the two are separate and mutually exclusive.
The offender must have either a criminal record with no violent crimes and nothing more serious than a fourth-degree felony, or a limited number of crimes. That is two felonies or fewer; four misdemeanors or fewer; or two felonies and two misdemeanors, but no other crimes.
Expunging Misdemeanors in Ohio
As described above, the law in Ohio states that misdemeanors of the first degree cannot be expunged or sealed. However, misdemeanors of the first degree are the most serious misdemeanors, while the misdemeanor of disorderly conduct is one of the least serious misdemeanors.
The offense of disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor of the fourth degree in Ohio and therefore qualifies for expungement.
To get started on expunging this misdemeanor, it is necessary to complete an application for expungement and file it with the municipal or county court where the case was initially filed. Be sure to check with the court to learn its local rules and procedures for making and filing expungement applications.
Note that many different types of criminal records can be sealed. This includes an arrest for a crime that resulted in no conviction and a criminal charge that was later dismissed.
Prepare for the Expungement Hearing
Once an application for expungement is prepared and filed with the court, it is reviewed. The entire circumstances are considered to verify that:
- There are no current charges outstanding against the individual.
- The individual has completed any sentence that resulted from the conviction.
- Any ordered probation period was completed.
- The offense is eligible for expungement in Ohio.
- The offender is eligible for expungement in Ohio.
Note that the prosecution has the right to file objections to the application if they see fit. The person has the right to hire a criminal defense attorney to represent them and to present arguments on their behalf. Generally law firms provide a free consultation before signing on the dotted line as a client.
At the Hearing Date
When all arguments have been submitted, the Ohio court sets a hearing. Both parties have the right to appear and present arguments. In most counties, the judge makes a ruling the same day at the end of the hearing.
If the Motion to Seal Record is granted, the judge signs an order that the records be sealed. The court then notifies all government agencies who have any record of your conviction, requiring them to keep your record sealed from public view. At this time, your rights are restored as if the conviction never happened.
Why Apply for Expungement?
Expungement procedures in Ohio do not eliminate a criminal record, but they do erase it from public view. With a criminal record, an individual can face stigma and prejudice. They can be denied employment, refused entry to a university, denied financial assistance, or turned down for housing. Most of these issues disappear if the records are expunged.
Sealing a criminal record means that an individual has been rehabilitated, providing legal "forgiveness" of convictions or charges, so the individuals are able to move their lives forward.
In fact, once the court grants an expungement in Ohio, the person is legally permitted to state that they have no convictions. This is the case whenever the question comes from a private employer, a private landlord or an educational institution.
Some Records May Still Be Available
Recall that the records are still available to some agencies. That is, law enforcement agencies, government agencies, and the judicial branch can still access the record. This includes employers in government agencies and the prosecutor of any criminal charge brought against the individual after expungement.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.