People frequently ask if they can have their criminal record expunged or sealed. In Ohio the answer is generally yes for a first offense, subject to several restrictions and exceptions. Usually, a person seeking to expunge their record needs to file a petition in the court that imposed the sentence in their case. For a felony case a person can apply to have their record expunged three years after their final discharge and for a misdemeanor a person can apply to have their record expunged one year after final discharge.
After the petition seeking to seal records is filed, the court will investigate to find if a person is eligible, determine if criminal proceedings are pending against the petitioner, consider a prosecutor's objection, if any, and weigh the interests of the petitioner in having the record sealed against the government's interest in maintaining the records.
If the court orders the conviction and records sealed they can still be available to law enforcement, prosecutors, parole or probation officers and courts. Unfortunately, in the internet age, there is a good chance that the conviction has been captured by an internet site that may not be known nor subject to the court's order, and although the conviction is expunged by law, the mug shot, news articles and other electronic data may still be available to those doing an internet search.
Certain offenses cannot be expunged. These include:
- Convictions when the offender is subject to a mandatory prison term;
- Convictions for a felony of the first or second degree;
- Convictions for Rape, Sexual Battery, Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a Minor, Gross Sexual Imposition, Sexual Imposition, Pandering Obscenity Involving a Minor, Pandering Sexually Oriented Matter Involving a Minor, Illegal Use of a Minor in Nudity-Oriented Material, Driving Under Suspension, Traffic Violations, Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of Alcohol, Motor Vehicle Crimes, or a conviction for a violation of a municipal ordinance that is substantially similar to any section contained in any of those chapters;
- Convictions for an offense of violence when the offense is a misdemeanor of the first degree or a felony and when the offense is not Riot and is not Assault, Inciting to Violence, or Inducing Panic that is a misdemeanor of the first degree;
- Convictions on or after October 10, 2007, for Importuning or a conviction on or after October 10, 2007, for a violation of a municipal ordinance that is substantially similar to that section;
- Convictions on or after October 10, 2007, for Voyeurism, Public Indecency, Compelling Prostitution, Promoting Prostitution, Procuring, Disseminating Matter Harmful to Juveniles, Displaying Matter Harmful to Juveniles, Pandering Obscenity, or Deception to Obtain Matter Harmful to Juveniles when the victim of the offense was under eighteen years of age;
- Convictions of an offense in circumstances in which the victim of the offense was under eighteen years of age when the offense is a misdemeanor of the first degree or a felony; and
- Bail forfeitures in a traffic case as defined in Traffic Rule 2.
After a conviction is sealed, a person's rights are restored pursuant to RC § 2953.33 which provides that "an order issued under that section to seal the record of a person's conviction restores the person who is the subject of the order to all rights and privileges not otherwise restored by termination of the sentence or community control sanction or by final release on parole or post-release control." Further, in any application for employment, license, or other right or privilege, any appearance as a witness, or any other inquiry, a person may be questioned only with respect to convictions not sealed, unless the question bears a direct and substantial relationship to the position for which the person is being considered.