1 Understanding & Clearing Up Criminal Records in Ohio Table of Contents What is a Criminal Record?... What are the Ohio Revised Code Statues.. Correcting a Commercial Background Check Correcting a State or Federal Criminal Record.. Sealing Adult Criminal Records: Introduction... Sealing Adult Criminal Records: Convictions.. Sealing Adult Criminal Records: Non-Convictions Sealing Adult Criminal Records: Application Instructions. Other Information Certificates of Achievement and Employability.
2 What is a Criminal Record? A criminal record is not one, uniform document. There are numerous versions of a criminal record or a rap sheet and they all have different information. County Conviction Record Transcript Where to get it: Your local sheriff s office These are sometimes referred to as police checks. They include all convictions that occurred in that county, but they exclude crimes in other counties and charges not resulting in a conviction (cases ignored or dismissed, or defendant found not guilty). Also, these background checks do not reveal sealed (expunged) offenses. Clerk of Courts Website Where to get it: online at ( Anyone in the general public including landlords, employers, and education programs can view criminal-record information through a clerk-of-courts website for any particular county. Free of charge, such websites reveal any case that has a person s name associated with it, including non-sealed criminal convictions and non-convictions, and civil cases. Most of these websites only reach back a certain number of years. Each clerk-of-courts began putting its cases online at a particular time in the past. Cases before that time can be found in the paper files in the clerk s archive, but will not show up on the website. Commercial Background-Checking Companies Where to get it: Usually online Cost: Varies Dozens of companies, most of which offer their services over the internet, provide criminal record information to employers, landlords, and others reviewing the backgrounds of applicants. Companies conducting these searches are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and can report all non-expunged convictions within the United States for someone s entire life. These services can also report any arrests not leading to conviction that occurred within seven years of the check. A person must grant permission for others to request a private background check on their name. If employers do not hire a person based on a background check, they must notify the applicant about which service provided the check. If an applicant believes that the check is incorrect or outdated, he/ she should contact the Ohio Justice & Policy Center or the legal aid office that serves him/her immediately for legal help.
3 See the National Consumer Law Center s report, - Broken Records. For more information on problems related to commercial background check:
4 BCI and FBI Background Checks Where to get it: Any approved WebCheck location (see list at: Community-Listing.aspx). Cost: BCI-$32; FBI-$34; or Both-$61 The State of Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI&I, or sometimes referred to as just BCI) provides official criminal conviction records for Ohio only. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provides official nation-wide checks. These are the most accurate and comprehensive. A person s finger prints and permission are required to run the check. The resulting report includes all convictions and depending on who requests the search, may also include expunged offenses. For example, if a health-care employer obtains permission to run a BCI check on an applicant, the employer may disqualify the applicant from employment based solely on certain expunged convictions. What appears on Various Background Checks Sealed/ expunged offenses Penalties Convictions Non-convictions Conviction Record Transcript for single county X X Only that county Clerk of Courts website X X X Only that county Commercial background check company X 7 yrs X X Statewide or Nationwide Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigations WebCheck ( BCI Check ) X X X X depending on employer Statewide FBI Background Checks X X X Nationwide
5 Correcting a Commercial Background Check If there is a problem with your background check provided by a commercial background agency, you can contact the agency to get the information corrected. This is done by getting a certified court record and sending it to the agency with a cover letter stating the information that you would like to be corrected. Sample Cover Letter: [Date] [Name of Commercial Background Agency] [Address of Agency] To Whom It May Concern: I am writing to request a correction to my criminal background check. Currently, your records show my case as: [precisely state what the background check says]. But I was not convicted of [ ]. I have enclosed a copy of certified court records from [name of county, common pleas, or municipal court for case number [ ] that shows I was actually convicted of [precisely state final charge]. Please add this final disposition information to my Computerized Criminal History entry for this case. Also, please send me a revised version of my background check once this correction is made. If you have any questions about this correction request, please contact me at [area code + phone number]. Sincerely, Signature [Name] [Full mailing address]
6 Correcting a State or Federal Criminal Record You can correct an inaccurate state criminal record by getting a certified court record documenting the accurate information and sending it to BCI with a cover letter listing the corrections that need to be made. Once the record is fixed at the state level with the BCI, the corrections will instantly be recognized by the FBI. Sample Cover Letter: [Date] [Name of Criminal Identification and Investigation P.O. Box 365 London, OH To Whom It May Concern: I am writing to request a correction to my BCI criminal check. Currently, your records show my case as: [precisely state what BCI check says]. But I was not convicted of [ ]. I have enclosed a copy of certified court records from [name of county, common pleas, or municipal court] for case number [ ] that shows I was actually convicted of [precisely state final charge]. Please add this final disposition information to my Computerized Criminal History entry for this case. Please be certain to electronically notify the FBI of this correction so that the office can also correct its records. Also, please send me a revised version of my BCI check once this correction is made. If you have any questions about this correction request, please contact me at [area code + phone number]. Sincerely, Signature [Name] [Full mailing address]
7 Sealing Adult Criminal Records: Introduction What does it mean to get my criminal record sealed? What about expungement? When people talk about having a record expunged, they usually think this process will completely erase their criminal record, as if it has never happened. However, in Ohio, adult convictions cannot be expunged or completely erased from your record. 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 ). 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, license, seeking credit, applying for education 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. In fact, after getting a record sealed, an individual may honestly mark on applications that the sealed offense does not exist. You can t seal it 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. It is 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 has 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 it was a conviction or not.
8 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 Identification and Investigation (BCI). However, sealed records are often mistakenly disclosed by commercial background-checking companies if this happens to you, contact your local legal aid or the Ohio Justice & Police 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. Most state professional-licensing boards, such as 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, suspensions, or revocation. Can I get some help with sealing my records? You can apply for record sealing and succeed without an attorney. However, 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.
9 Sealing Adult Criminal Records: Convictions Question 1: Are you trying to get a prohibited offense sealed? The law is very clear that the following convictions can never be sealed: - Any first or second degree felony -Any offense with a mandatory prison term -Any first degree misdemeanor or felony offense where the victim was under 18 years old except for the non-support of dependents (Revised Code ; This offense became sealable under SB 337) -Any offense of violence, as defined by Revised Code (A)(9): Aggravated murder Murder Voluntary manslaughter Involuntary manslaughter Felonious assault Aggravated assault Assault Permitting child abuse Aggravated menacing Menacing by stalking Menacing Kidnapping Abduction Extortion Rape Sexual battery Gross sexual imposition (former) Felonious sexual penetration Aggravated arson Arson Terrorism Aggravated robbery Robbery Aggravated burglary Inciting to violence Aggravated riot Riot* Inducing panic* Domestic violence Intimidation Intimidation of attorney, victim or witness in criminal case
10 Escape Improperly discharging firearm at or into a habitation, in a school safety zone or with the intent to cause harm or panic to persons in a school building or at a school function (A) (1), (2) or (3) Burglary (B) (1),(2),(3) or (4) Endangering children *Exception: these offenses are not prohibited if they are misdemeanors Also any sexual offense not already listed, including: - Unlawful sexual contact with a minor - Illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance - Sexual imposition - Importuning - Pandering obscenity involving a minor - Pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor Traffic offenses can never be sealed, but they are not counted as a criminal conviction unless it is one of the traffic or automobile offenses listed below. If you were convicted of any offenses listed below, you CANNOT have those convictions sealed, however If you have only one prohibited offense but have other offenses you want sealed, or if you do not have any of the prohibited offenses, go on to Question 2. -Knowingly offering to sell a car where the odometer was tampered with -Tampering with an odometer -Sale or possession of a master key designed to fit more than one vehicle -Driving under suspension related to a DUI or refusal to take a breathalyzer/chemical test -Offenses with purpose to conceal or destroy identity of car or its parts -DUI -Street racing -All types of hit-and-runs -Leaving the scene of an accident.
11 Question 2: How many convictions do you have? The number of convictions you have must fit the law s definition of an eligible offender (Revised Code as amended by SB 337, effective 9/28/12). To determine whether you fit that definition, you need to know several rules about how offenses are counted: THE BASIC RULE: An eligible offender can have at most two misdemeanor convictions or one misdemeanor and one felony conviction. Convictions from anywhere in the United States are counted in this process, not just convictions from Ohio. The court will have its probation department do a national background check to verify the number of convictions you have. Traffic offenses are not counted towards your total number of convictions, unless they are any of the more serious vehicle-related offenses listed under Question 1 as a prohibited offense. Minor misdemeanors are not counted towards your total number of convictions. A minor misdemeanor is a ticket-only offense; it is a less than a fourth-degree misdemeanor. To be a minor misdemeanor, jail-time or probation could not have been a possible sentence and the maximum possible fine was $150. Examples: tickets for open flask, after hours in the park, minor misdemeanor drug possession (a.k.a. weed tickets), jaywalking, loud noise, and disorderly conduct. There is no legal limit on the number of minor misdemeanors you can have sealed, as long as the number of non-minor misdemeanors or felonies on your record are still within the eligible offender limits. Even if your two non-minor misdemeanors, or one non-minor misdemeanor and a felony, are prohibited offense, you can still have your minor misdemeanors sealed. If you have two or more convictions based on the same criminal incident, the multiple convictions will be treated like one conviction when you apply to have the records sealed. Example: You were convicted of shoplifting and resisting arrest in the same incident. The court will consider the two separate convictions as one conviction when you apply to seal the records. These charges may be charged under the same case number or separate case numbers, so long as they arose out of the same set of facts.
12 If you have two or three convictions not based on the same criminal act, but that resulted from the same court proceeding and the convictions were for related criminal acts committed within three months of each other, the multiple convictions may be treated like one conviction. Example: You have two convictions for passing bad checks on March 1 st and May 10 th, and you were convicted of both at the same court proceeding, the court has the discretion to treat the two convictions as one if you apply to have the records sealed. The court can also decide that it is not in the public interest to treat the multiple convictions as one. If you exceed the eligible offender limits on the number of convictions, you CANNOT have any of your criminal convictions sealed. If you do meet the eligible offender limits, go to Question 3. Question 3: Are any other criminal charges pending against you? The court will not seal your conviction record if you have any criminal charges pending against you at this time. Wait until those charges are completely dealt with. If you have no charges pending against you, go on to Question 4. Question 4: How many years since you completed your sentence? You must wait a certain amount of time after the final discharge of the sentence for your conviction before you may apply for the record to be sealed. Final discharge means you finished serving any jail or prison sentence, any term of probation or parole, and paid fines or court costs. For misdemeanors (including minor misdemeanors) you must wait one year after the final discharge of your conviction to apply to have your conviction record sealed. For felonies you must wait three years after the final discharge of your conviction to apply. If you haven t satisfied the waiting period yet, wait to apply until you do. If you have satisfied the waiting period..congratulations: You are now eligible to get your record sealed!
13 Sealing Adult Criminal Records: Non-Convictions If your criminal record shows that the charges against you were dismissed or you were found not guilty (acquitted) by a judge or jury, answer the following questions to determine if you are eligible to have those records sealed. Question 1: Were all the criminal charges against you either dismissed or acquitted? If you were convicted on one or more charges that arose out of the same incident while other charges wee dismissed, you CANNOT get the dismissed charges sealed unless you are also eligible to get the convictions sealed as well (see the earlier rules for sealing convictions). If all charges in the case were dismissed, SKIP Question 2. Go to Question 3 Question 2: Was a No Bill issued in your case or were the charges against you Ignored? In most felony cases and in some misdemeanor cases, the prosecutor first brings the charges and some minimal evidence against you before a Grand Jury. The grand jury then decides whether or not to indict you on those charges. If the grand jury decided that there was not even enough evidence for the prosecutor to go forward on the charges, they issued a No Bill (this is also sometimes called an Ignored case). - If yes, you must wait two years from the date the No-Bill was issued to apply. This is because the prosecutor has two years within which to re-file the charges. - If it has been more than two years since the No Bill was issued, go to Question3. Question 3: Are there any criminal charges pending against you right now? If yes, the court will not seal your record at this time. Wait until those charges are completely dealt with. If any of your convictions or non-convictions are eligible to be sealed at that point, then apply to the court. If you have no charges pending against you, congratulations! You are eligible to get your non-conviction record sealed. There is no waiting period for nonconvictions, other than No-Bills. Go to the Application Instructions section of this packet.
14 Sealing Adult Criminal Records: Application Instructions Step 1: Contact the clerk of courts office The clerk of courts is the official who is responsible for all of the files for every case ever filed in a particular court, including your criminal cases. For each court where you were sentenced find out: a). The case numbers of every conviction and non-conviction on your record b). The name (e.g. drug possession, theft, assault) and degree (e.g. 1 st degree misdemeanor or Ml) of each of your offenses c). The date you were convicted d). The date you completed your entire sentence (jail/prison or probation/parole completed, fines paid). You can go in person, call by telephone, or, in many counties, search the clerk s website. You can find web links for Ohio courts at or go to and click on - Ohio Courts under Links. Step2: Ask the clerk for their sealing of record application Although the word expungement is not actually used in any of the relevant state statutes, many clerks offices still refer to this process by that name and they will refer to their forms that way. Again, some courts also have procedures and forms for record sealing (expungement) online. It is important to review them in case the court you are dealing with has specific procedural requirements. There is no standard form accepted in every court in Ohio many prefer that you use their forms. The clerk may have different forms for sealing convictions, dismissals, or acquittals, so make sure you get the right packet of forms. Also, ask how many copies of the forms you will need to file. Complete the application forms and make the copies the court needs, along with an extra copy for yourself. Step 3: File the Application Bring the completed forms and copies back to the clerk s office. You must file in the county where the case originated. Also, you will need to pay a $50 fee for filing an application to seal a conviction record. Filing an application to seal a record of acquittal, dismissal, or No Bill is always free. If you cannot afford the fee for conviction-record sealing, you have the right to have the fee waived. Do not be dissuaded by a clerk who tells you, We don t do that around here. Demand permission to file a poverty affidavit (they should have such a form). File a completed and notarized poverty affidavit with your application. The
15 judge will review your poverty affidavit, and if the judge concludes that you cannot afford the application fee, the fee will be waived. Step 4: Decide if you need an attorney If at any point you feel that the process is too confusing or intimidating, or that the clerk s office is giving you the run-around, get an attorney. Many legal aid offices assist with criminal-record sealing for qualified low-income people. You can search on the Ohio Poverty Law Center website ( for the legal aid office in the county where you want to apply for record sealing. Alternatively, you could pay a private attorney to handle your record-sealing application. Step 5: Court Process If the prosecutor does not want the judge to seal your record, the prosecutor may file an objection that includes specific reasons before the hearing. Between when you file and the hearing date, most courts ask their probation department to verify that you are eligible; that may include running a national criminal background check. The probation department may call you with questions during this time as well. Step 6: Prepare what you will say A judge is required to decide whether you have been rehabilitated before sealing your record. If the prosecutor objects, the judge is also suppose to weigh whether it is in the public interest for your record to be sealed. So, be prepared for the judge to ask you what you have been doing since you were charged or convicted and why you want your record sealed. The judge wants to hear that you have turned your life around. For instance, if you were convicted of a drug-related crime, you should mention if you have received any substance abuse treatment since your conviction or if you are involved with a substance abuse support group. If you have an attorney, it is their job to help you think through and prepare what you need to say. Step 7: Go to the hearing If you don t show up, your application for record sealing will almost certainly be denied. At the hearing, the judge will listen to your reasons for requesting that your record be sealed and will listen to any objection from the prosecutor. The court will follow the strict eligibility rules and decide whether to grant your request for sealing. The judge usually decides whether or not to seal your record at the hearing. However, if the judge decides after the hearing, you will be notified by mail. If the judge grants your application, congratulations! You re on your way to a fresh start!
16 If you were denied and don t understand why, seek out an attorney. Step 8: Once sealed, how long does it take? It often takes at least six weeks for the court, police, and other agencies to seal all the record pertaining to your case. After that point, your conviction, acquittal, or dismissal should no longer appear when a potential employer, landlord, or anyone in the general public runs a check of your criminal history. You can legally say on job and housing applications that you have not been convicted of the sealed crimes. However, your record can still be seen by prosecutors and the police if you are involved in a criminal investigation in the future for another crime. If you are convicted of a crime in the future, judges and juries consider your prior convictions for sentencing purposes, even if your records for the convictions are sealed. Also, state law permits several types of employers, such as police departments, child-care providers, schools and nursing homes, to see your sealed record if you apply for a job with them. Also, commercial background-checking companies frequently fail to update their databases once someone has had their record sealed. You may find that you do not disclose your sealed record on a job application only to have your employer later come back and ask you about the sealed record because they found it on a commercial background check. If this happens to you, you may have a legal claim against the background-checking company.
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