New Ohio law brings increased opportunities for expunging criminal convictions
Ohio Senate Bill 337, signed into law by Governor John Kasich on June 26, 2012, and made effective on Sept. 28, 2012, expands opportunities for individuals to have criminal convictions expunged from their records. Under the new law, individuals with more than one conviction as well as individuals convicted of nonsupport of a dependent – individuals who were previously ineligible for expungement – may now be eligible to have their convictions sealed.
Expungement is no longer available only to 'first offenders'
Prior to the enactment of Senate Bill 337, a person had to qualify as a “first offender” in order to have their criminal conviction expunged. In essence, this meant that anyone with more than one conviction (with the exception of minor misdemeanors and convictions related to the same case) was ineligible for expungement. Senate Bill 337 did away with the first offender requirement. Under the new law, a person qualifies for expungement if he or she has:
- not more than one felony conviction,
- not more than two misdemeanor convictions if the convictions are not of the same offense, or
- not more than one felony conviction and one misdemeanor conviction in Ohio or any other jurisdiction.
For individuals falling into the second two categories (i.e. those with either two unrelated misdemeanor convictions or a combination of one felony and one misdemeanor conviction), expungement was previously unattainable. Now, with the enactment of Senate Bill 337, these individuals may also be entitled to the clean slate that expungement provides.
As under the old law, two or more related convictions may be counted as one conviction for purposes of determining an individual’s eligibility for expungement. For example, two or more convictions arising from the same act or resulting from offenses committed at the same time are counted as one conviction. Similarly, up to three convictions that were charged or imposed at the same time and resulted from related criminal acts that were committed within a three-month period are counted as one conviction. Also unchanged is the exclusion of minor misdemeanors and most traffic offenses from the computation of an individual’s convictions.
Expungement is not automatic
Applying to have a conviction expunged can be a complicated and intimidating process, and the assistance of an attorney is highly recommended. A court that receives an application for expungement must conduct a hearing on the application and must give notice of the hearing to the prosecutor, who will be given the opportunity to object to the application. The court may also order a probation officer to conduct an investigation of the applicant. Ultimately, the decision of whether to grant the application resides in the discretion of the judge.