Ohio liberalizes sealing of convictions

At some point, everyone makes a mistake. Unfortunately, a mistake can sometimes result in a criminal conviction. And while the sentence might be long over, the collateral consequences of a conviction can linger—continuing to affect educational and employment opportunities.

With the enactment of Ohio Senate Bill 337, more individuals are eligible to have their convictions sealed. Under the old law, only a first offender was eligible; he or she could have one felony or one misdemeanor conviction expunged. Under the new law, which took effect in late September, an eligible offender may have his or her record sealed. An eligible offender is a person with one of the following:

  • One qualifying felony conviction.
  • One qualifying misdemeanor conviction.
  • Two qualifying misdemeanor convictions, if not the same offense.
  • One qualifying felony conviction and one qualifying misdemeanor conviction.

By changing the definition to the more expansive eligible offender, the new law permits the sealing of second convictions, which could not be sealed under the old law. If, for example, a person was convicted of disorderly conduct in college and 10 years later is found guilty of a housing code violation, he or she can now have both convictions expunged. Previously, only the first conviction could be sealed, and it had to be sealed prior to the second conviction.

The new law also downgrades several traffic convictions that previously could not be sealed to simple moving violations that typically do not have to be revealed on employment or licensure applications.

It is important to note that not all offenses can be sealed under the new law. Among those that cannot be sealed are drunken driving convictions, convictions for numerous felonies and offenses of violence and convictions for offenses in which the victims are minors.

An applicant seeking to seal his or her conviction must still wait the appropriate statutory period from the conclusion of a sentence before filing an application to seal. For qualifying misdemeanors, an individual must wait one year; for qualifying felonies, three years.

Be mindful that expunging does not completely eliminate a conviction. Certain state and federal agencies still may have access to the information. These include state agencies that issue licenses to doctors, lawyers, teachers and real estate brokers, and federal licensing agencies, such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Moreover, a court order to seal a person's record is applicable only to governmental bodies, such as courts and police departments. The law does not provide for the removal of negative information surrounding a conviction from private third-party databases, such as those maintained by background check companies, and Internet search engines, such as Google and Bing.

The real value of sealing a record is in employment matters. A job applicant whose record has been expunged can legally say that he or she does not have a conviction, and information relating to a sealed conviction cannot be used against a person in employment matters.

It is important to consult with a qualified and experienced attorney to determine whether an offense may be sealed.

If you, a friend or a relative would like to know if a conviction may be sealed under the new law, contact Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper for a confidential consultation. We can advise you and guide you through the process.

—Michael E. Cicero