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Record Sealing (Expungement)

 

Old criminal records impose a terrible burden on individuals who have otherwise turned their lives around. Approximately 1 out of every 6 Ohioans have a felony or misdemeanor record. And there are approximately 850 laws and administrative rules that limit job opportunities for Ohioans with prior convictions. According to a recent study conducted by the Ohio Justice & Policy center, restrictions on employment based upon prior convictions cost individuals an estimated $3.4 billion in lost wages in 2017. Criminal records also severely impact an individual’s ability to obtain affordable housing.

 

The Public Defender’s Office Handles Felony Expungements in Cuyahoga County


The Public Defender’s Office works to mitigate the negative impacts of a criminal record by helping individuals seal their felony records in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. If you are eligible to get your record sealed, attorneys with the Office’s Appellate Division will represent you. In addition to the attorneys, the following staff help facilitate the record sealing process:


Expungement Staff - (216) 443-7580
Tom Kelley - Expungement Coordinator (216) 443-3683 tkelley@cuyahogacounty.us
Katie Wingle (216) 443-3657 kwingle@cuyahogacounty.us

 

You can apply for assistance in getting your adult felony record sealed by:

If you have questions about sealing or expunging juvenile records, please contact our juvenile division at (216) 443-7295.


Resources available to seal other criminal records


While the Public Defender’s Office does not handle misdemeanor record sealing in Cuyahoga County Municipal Courts, there are resources available to help clear up these records.


The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland will help individuals prepare applications to seal misdemeanor records in Cuyahoga County Municipal Courts and misdemeanors and felonies in Ashtabula, Lorain, Lake and Geauga Counties. You can contact Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 or at https://lasclev.org/contact/.


Additionally, nine of the thirteen of Municipal Courts in Cuyahoga County have their own forms that individuals can use to seal their records in those courts:


Bedford Municipal Court - (Bedford, Bedford Heights, Bentleyville, Chagrin Falls, Chagrin Falls Township, Glenwillow, Highland Hills, Moreland Hills, North Randall, Oakwood, Orange, Solon, Warrensville Heights, Woodmere)

Berea Municipal Court - (Berea, Brook Park, Middleburg Heights, Olmsted Falls, Olmsted Township, Strongsville)

Seal Conviction

Seal Not Guilty or Dismissal

Cleveland Municipal Court

Seal Conviction

Seal Not Guilty or Dismissal

Garfield Heights Municipal Court - (Brecksville, Cuyahoga Heights, Garfield Heights, Independence, Maple Heights, Newburgh Heights, Valley View, and Walton Hills)

Lakewood Municipal Court

Lyndhurst Municipal Court - (Gates Mills, Highland Heights, Lyndhurst, Mayfield Heights, Mayfield Village, Richmond Heights)

Seal Conviction

Seal Not Guilty or Dismissal

Rocky River Municipal Court - (Bay Village, Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Rocky River, Westlake)

Shaker Heights Municipal Court - (Beachwood, Hunting Valley, Pepper Pike, Shaker Heights, University Heights)

South Euclid Municipal Court

Seal Conviction

Seal Not Guilty or Dismissal

 

The remaining four courts (Cleveland Heights Municipal Court, East Cleveland Municipal Court, Euclid Municipal Court, Parma Municipal Court) do not have their own forms. However, you can use a generic pro se form to start the record sealing process.


FAQs about record sealing


The Ohio Justice and Policy Center has a detailed publication on Ohio Criminal Records that is available here and a summary of eligibility that is available here.


GENERAL:


Generally, when people talk about “expunging” records they are actually referring to sealing their criminal records. Convictions and criminal charges that did not result in convictions can be sealed or hidden from most background checks. Sealed records still exist but they cannot be seen by most people. Expunged records, on the other hand, are totally destroyed. Expungement can only happen for juvenile records, certain weapon charges, and records related to human trafficking.

 

There is an excellent resource, available at civicc.opd.ohio.gov, that enables you to identify the burdens and restrictions that people still experience for different types of convictions even after the court-imposed sentence has been served. For instance, this databased identifies 674 impacts for a felony conviction of possession of marijuana.

 


ELIGIBILITY:


Yes. Under Ohio law, you cannot seal any felony offense of violence (and most M-1 offenses of violence), any felony sex offenses, any first or second-degree felony offenses, any offenses carrying a mandatory prison term, any offenses where the victim is under 16 (excluding criminal non-support), and any traffic offenses.


A complete list of offenses that cannot be sealed can be found here.

 

    Yes, but only if you are an “eligible offender.” Individuals are eligible to seal their criminal records if they meet one of the following tests:

    1. No convictions for first, second, or third-degree felonies; no more than five felony offenses; no convictions for a felony or misdemeanor offense of violence; no convictions for felony sex offenses.

      Under this test, any individual can have an unlimited number of misdemeanor offenses – as long as there are no offenses of violence.


    2. No more than one felony and one misdemeanor conviction or no more than two misdemeanors (without any felony convictions).

      Minor misdemeanors do not count towards total number of convictions.

      There are some circumstances where multiple convictions can be treated as a single offense.

      This second test applies most often when an individual has a conviction for an F3 or a misdemeanor offense of violence that is otherwise able to be sealed.


If you meet the definition of eligible offender and the conviction is itself eligible to be sealed, you can file a motion to seal your record after waiting a certain amount of time after “final discharge” of your conviction. Final discharge means that you have completely served your sentence (all jail/prison time, any terms of probation or post-release control, and paid all restitution and/or fines). Unlike restitution and fines, court costs do not need to be paid prior to obtaining “final discharge” of your conviction. Courts may, however, consider unpaid court costs as a factor in deciding whether to seal a record.


The waiting periods after final discharge are as follows:

  • One year for misdemeanors;

  • Three years if you only have a single felony conviction on your record;

  • Four years if you have only two felony convictions;

  • Five years if you have three to five felony convictions;

  • Unpaid court costs do not automatically disqualify you but courts may consider the fact that court costs are unpaid in deciding whether to seal the record.

You cannot get your record sealed if any criminal proceedings are pending against you. For example, if you have any open warrant for any unresolved criminal case, you are not eligible to get your record sealed until that issue is resolved.

 

No. Even if you are eligible to have a conviction sealed, a trial court still has discretion to determine whether sealing of the record is appropriate. In making that determination, the trial court is required to weigh the interest of the applicant in having the record sealed versus the legitimate interest, if any, of the government to maintain those records.


While trial courts still have the discretion to deny requests to seal records for eligible offenders, it is our Office’s experience that trial courts, at least in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, will generally grant motions to seal records for eligible offenders.

 

Many people believe that, if a criminal cases is dismissed or if an individual is found not guilty, the records are automatically sealed. That is not the case. Criminal charges that do not result in convictions will generally continue to appear on your record unless you file an application to seal them. The statute that governs the sealing of not guilty, dismissed, or no billed cases is R.C. 2953.51. Our Office also helps seal dismissed, no billed, or not guilty cases if they were in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.


An individual can file a motion to seal dismissed cases or cases that resulted in a not guilty verdict at any time. The only thing that will make you ineligible to seal a dismissed or not guilty case is if you have a criminal proceeding currently pending against you. Thus, you may be ineligible to seal a criminal conviction but eligible to seal a dismissed case.


You can also file a motion to seal a case that has been “no billed” (i.e. charges were presented to a grand jury but no indictment was issued). However, you must wait two years to do so.

 


THE LEGAL EFFECT OF A SEALED RECORD:


Most people are not allowed to access sealed records. For instance, private landlords cannot see sealed offenses of individuals applying for housing. Commercial background-checking companies may not report sealed records. And most private employers cannot see sealed records.


However, certain employers, criminal-justice system officials, and professional licensing agencies are allowed to see sealed records.

 

Under Ohio law, once a criminal conviction has been sealed, it “shall be considered not to have occurred.” So if, an employer asks whether you have ever been convicted of a felony, you can correctly answer no. A note of caution is important, however. There is always a possibility that, although your record has been sealed, that it could still show up on a commercial background check that has not been updated. Accordingly, in some circumstances, it may be prudent to advise potential employers that, if a prior conviction shows up, it has in fact been sealed.

 

Many criminal convictions make it a crime under both state and federal law to possess a firearm. Once a criminal conviction is sealed, that now-sealed conviction no longer prevents you for possessing a firearm. Moreover, the Ohio Attorney General has made clear, in its CCW manual, that sealed records shall not be considered by county sheriff’s processing CCW applications.

 

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs commercial criminal background check companies. Under the FCRA, background check companies are required to keep their information accurate, complete, and up to date. You have a right to dispute inaccurate information. Please see this sample letter created by the Ohio Justice & Policy Center that can be sent to correct inaccurate information in a commercial background check.

 


OTHER OPTIONS:


Yes, there are least two other options: 1) A certificate of qualification for employment (CQE); and 2) A pardon from the Governor. Although neither option will seal your record, both can provide some relief from the effects of a criminal conviction.


A Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE) is issued by a Common Pleas Judge and has two legal effects. First, a CQE relieves individuals of many absolutely bars to certain types of work or licenses. Instead of relying on the blanket restriction, the state agency that governs that field of employment must individually assess the applicant to determine whether they are fit for the job or license. Secondly, a CQE gives employers legal protection (immunity) from lawsuits that could arise from hiring someone with a prior conviction.


Our office does not generally represent individuals applying for CQEs. You can get detailed information on the CQE process here. Although a CQE is ultimately reviewed by a Common Pleas Judge, you initiate the application process by filing out the online application available at www.drccqe.com.


A pardon issued by the Governor represents forgiveness for a crime and relieves the pardoned person from some or all the ramifications of lawful punishment. An individual granted a full and unconditional pardon is deemed, by law, to have never committed the offense.


Our offices does not generally represent individuals applying for pardons. You can obtain a pardon or clemency application and instructions for completing it here.