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New law paves an easier road to record sealing for convicted Ohioans

A person fills out a paper with an ink pen.
Ohio's record expungement laws changed this year. It expands the eligibility for record sealing and expungement.

A law that took effect this year makes it a bit easier to get records sealed or expunged. It expands the amount and types of offenses that are eligible to be scrubbed from public view and expedites the application process for convicted Ohioans.

Deputy director of Ohio Justice and Policy Center LaToya Bell said the law could help expand housing and employment opportunities for a large number of Ohioans. One in 11 Ohioans have been convicted of a felony, according to2018 research from Policy Matters Ohio.

“It makes a huge difference in their life,” Bell said. “I've had a client who had over 70 charges and we've been able to piece by piece seal all 70 for her.”

What’s changed?

Ohio’s new law distinguishes record sealing from expungement – once, those terms were used interchangeably.

When you seal a record, it scrubs that offense from public view, meaning it won’t pop up on many background checks. But, that record is still maintained by the government. On the other hand, a record that is expunged is erased entirely, as if it never occurred.

In the past, there was a cap on how many offenses a person could apply to get sealed or expunged. A person could seal one eligible felony and up to four misdemeanors. The new law gets rid of some of those limitations.

“It makes a huge difference in their life. I've had a client who had over 70 charges and we've been able to piece by piece seal all 70 for her.”
LaToya Bell, Ohio Justice and Policy Center

“Now, an unlimited number of eligible misdemeanors can be expunged and eligible felonies except for [third degree felonies]. There’s still limitations on only three [third degree felonies] can be expunged or sealed,” Bell said.

Plus, the law expedites the application process. It shortens waiting periods for certain offenses.

And, once an application for sealing or expungement is filed, courts have to hold a hearing within 90 days of the filing.

Who is eligible?

Not all crimes are eligible for record sealing or expungement.

First and second degree felonies, which are often violent crimes, cannot be sealed. Registered sex offenses, crimes against children and domestic violence charges are also ineligible.

Bell said she thinks Ohio could continue to expand eligibility for record sealing. She believes the state should adopt ‘automatic sealing,’ which would mean if a person is found innocent of a crime, or their case is dismissed, that record would automatically be hidden from public view.

As it stands now – even if you’re not convicted – you have to petition to seal your record.

“Most people think it happens automatically or falls off like your credit report. And that's just not accurate,” she said.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.