Leslie fell into a drug addiction like many people: an injury, followed by prescribed opioids and later the use of illicit street drugs.
She ended up with a nonviolent criminal record linked to her addiction. But years after her release from Franklin County Jail, Leslie’s record still follows her everywhere. Landlords want huge security deposits. Hiring managers turn her down for better paying jobs. And once her son entered middle school, she wasn’t allowed to chaperone field trips anymore.
Leslie, which is her middle name, turned to Columbus Legal Aid to help seal and expunge her criminal record. Sealing a criminal record removes it from public view while expunging it wipes it away.
Now 34, Leslie is close to completing the process.
And she’s encouraging others with records to get started, especially since a new law, which took effect April 4, makes it easier, cheaper and quicker to seal and expunge certain criminal records.
“It’s totally worth it,” she said. Sealing and expunging old criminal records will open opportunities for people who have rebuilt their lives, she said.
“They deserve it. They’ve done their time,” Leslie said. “They’re now reformed citizens and they deserve to be seen as valuable citizens that they are and not to just basically suffer or be punished for all eternity because of their mistake.”
A 2018 report by Policy Matters Ohio estimated that one in 11 Ohioans have felony records and as many as one in three have some criminal record.
Who can apply to seal or expunge a conviction?
To be eligible, the applicant can’t have any open or pending criminal cases, including warrants, open traffic violations, or be on probation or community control. All fines and restitution need to be paid and the waiting period must end.
The waiting periods vary. Generally, it’s six months to seal for minor misdemeanors and one year for misdemeanors.
Fourth and fifth degree felonies may be sealed after one year and third degree felonies after three years. But applicants must wait an additional 10 years to expunge any felony case.
Anyone who already had their record sealed can apply for expungement. But keep in mind that some felony records can’t be expunged until the 10-year mark passes.
What criminal records are not eligible?
Large swathes of crimes aren’t eligible for sealing and expungement, including:
First and second degree felonies, such as murder, rape, kidnapping and other violent offenses.
Third degree felonies when the applicant has more than two.
Domestic violence convictions and violations of protection orders.
Crimes against children under age 13, except for non-payment of child support.
Any sex crimes where the person is still required to register.
How does someone apply?
Applications must be made in the court where the conviction or dismissal occurred. This means for someone with multiple convictions it might require visiting multiple courts.
The application fee can be no more than $50, paid to each court. That can be waived if income eligibility rules are met. (The fee may be increased, depending on what happens with the state budget bill.)
The court will hold a hearing 45 to 90 days after the application is filed. Prosecutors and/or crime victims may lodge objections.
The applicant must attend the hearing to explain why they want their record sealed or expunged and what steps they’ve taken toward rehabilitation. They’ll need to show that their interest in concealing the public records outweighs the government’s interest in keeping them open.
The final decision is up to the judge.
Does the process require a lawyer?
You don’t have to work with a lawyer but it can be helpful, especially if there are complications.
Help is available across Ohio from legal aid offices, law schools and nonprofits that provide legal advice and hold clinics.
University of Akron Professor Joann Sahl and her team have been running legal clinics for 10 years, helping nearly 10,000 people with sealing and expunging criminal records, getting drivers’ licenses restored, clearing up child support issues and other matters. The next clinic is 9 a.m. to noon June 17 at the Job Center, 1040 E. Tallmadge in Akron.
Verjine Adanalian, director of the Second Chance Project, said her team helps about 300 Hamilton County residents each year. People can sign up for a virtual clinic or email questions through the Ohio Justice & Policy Center website.
Another online option available to residents of Franklin and Tuscarawas counties is the OpportunityPort.org.
“I do want to tell people not to give up. No matter hard it is, no matter how many No’s you’ve gotten, don’t give up. Just keep going and reach out for help,” Leslie said.
Can I seal or expunge my criminal record? by Jessie Balmert on Scribd
Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio’s new law makes it easier to seal, expunge old criminal records