Sealing Adult Criminal Records: Introduction
What does it mean to get my criminal record sealed? What about “expungement”? Where do I begin? Read below for the basics. Get OJPC’s full criminal records manual here.
Expungement vs. Sealing?
When people talk about having a record “expunged,” they usually think this process will completely erase their criminal record, as if it never happened. However, in Ohio, adult convictions cannot be “expunged” or completely erased from your record, unless they are related to human trafficking. In fact, the word “expungement” is no longer used in Ohio law for the process we‘re discussing here. Instead, it is called “sealing a criminal record” (Ohio Revised Code § 2953.31 – 2953.62). When a record is sealed, the electronic and paper records of your criminal charges are filed in a separate, secured location. The record still exists but it cannot be seen by most people. There are some significant exceptions, however, discussed below.
Why should I get my records sealed?
Sealing a criminal record—even a non-conviction—may prove valuable when applying for a job or license, seeking credit, applying for educational programs, obtaining housing, and securing other opportunities. In most cases, a sealed record will not show up on a background check and can be treated as if it does not exist.
You can’t seal a record unless you know what it is. There are different rules and processes for sealing different kinds of criminal records. To decide which process you should use, you must know what type of record you want sealed. Is it a conviction, dismissal, or not guilty finding on your record? Did a grand jury enter a ‘no bill’ on the charges? The most reliable source for this information is the clerk for the court where the criminal case was handled. Many clerks of courts now have their records available online for you to search. If the records are not online, you will need to go to the clerk of courts office and request paper copies of the documents in your case that show whether the outcome was a conviction or not. The documents you may need to look for are a “Judges Sheet,” an entry, or an order that spells out the judge‘s final decision in your case.
Can anyone see the records after they are sealed?
Most employers and landlords are not allowed to access sealed records from a government source, such as the clerk of courts, the police, or the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). However, sealed records are often mistakenly disclosed by commercial background-checking companies. If this happens to you, contact your local legal aid office or the Ohio Justice & Policy Center for help. In addition, certain employers, officials, and agencies are allowed by law to see sealed records on BCI checks:
- Prosecutors, judges, and police if there are future criminal investigations;
- Judges considering convictions for sentencing in future crimes;
- Employers in law enforcement, jobs working with children or the elderly (e.g. schools, daycares, and health-care services), and some jobs in real-estate and financial institutions; and
- Most state professional-licensing boards, such the State Accountancy Board, State Medical Board, State Dental Board, State Board of Nursing, State Board of Psychology, and others, for the purposes of license denial, suspension, or revocation.
Can I get some help with sealing my records?
You can apply for record sealing and succeed without an attorney. But the prosecutor may object to your application and the judge may reject it for reasons you do not fully understand. Most legal aid offices in Ohio will assist with applying for record sealing. In Hamilton County, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center and the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office are also available for this kind of legal help.