Crime and Traffic

How to seal a criminal record

Criminal records can create barriers in everyday life. Your record can make things like renting an apartment or finding a job difficult. Sealing your criminal record can help you move forward with fewer barriers. Learn more about eligibility and how to seal a criminal record in Ohio.

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Understanding the Basics

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In Ohio, if you have difficulties because of your criminal record, you may be able to “seal” the record. Sealing a record makes it more private so most people can not see it.

Starting in April 2023, new Ohio laws allow more people to seal criminal records. So, even if you were ineligible for sealing before, you may be eligible for sealing now.

Who can see sealed criminal records

If your record is sealed, you legally can say that you have no criminal record on job applications. However, a sealed record still exists: The record is not erased or deleted.

Most employers and landlords cannot see a sealed record.

However, a sealed record can be seen by employers, officials and agencies if you:

  • Apply for certain jobs. If you apply for certain jobs (like law enforcement or childcare) the employer can see your sealed records.
  • Apply for certain professional licenses. If you apply for certain licensees (like accounting or dental), the licensing board can see your sealed records.
  • Are a suspect in a new criminal investigation. Prosecutors, judges and police can see sealed records.

If your sealed record is shared by a commercial background-checking company, contact your local legal aid for help.

Sealing vs. expungement

Sealing is different than expungement. Expunged records are more private than sealed records. Starting in April 2023, a new Ohio law allows Ohioans to expunge some criminal records. Contact your local legal aid for help with expungement.

Eligibility for sealing

New laws starting April 2023 allow more Ohioans to seal criminal records. So, even if you were ineligible for sealing before, you may be eligible for sealing now.

All dismissals on your record can be sealed at any time.

If your record contains convictions, your eligibility for sealing is based on:

  • What current charges you have. If you have an open or pending criminal case (including warrants and traffic cases), you are ineligible to seal a past conviction while the charges are pending.
  • Your conviction’s final discharge date. After final discharge, there is a waiting period before you can seal your convictions. Final discharge means you finished serving any jail or prison sentence, any term of probation, PRC, or parole and paid any fines. Court costs, however, are not part of your sentence and do not automatically disqualify you. Courts may consider unpaid court costs as another factor in their decision-making. The waiting period’s length depends on the level of the convicted offense.
  • The conviction’s level. You cannot seal the following types of convictions: 
    • 1st or 2nd degree felonies
    • Felony offenses of violence from this list
    • Violations of a protection order
    • Domestic violence
    • Crimes where the victim was under 13 years old (except convictions for non-support).
    • If your conviction is a sex offense and you are still subject to registration requirements, your conviction is ineligible for sealing.
    • Most traffic and motor vehicle offenses are ineligible for sealing.
    • If you have one or two other 3rd degree felonies, you may be eligible to seal them. If you have more than two 3rd degree felonies and your convictions are from the same incident, you may be able to seal them with a lawyer’s help. 

Before you can seal a charge, you must have the detailed information from your criminal court records. Read more about how to look-up and read all of your criminal records in Ohio.

To see if your convictions are eligible for sealing, take our sealing eligibility interview. 

Help sealing your record

If you have many charges, or if your charges are in multiple jurisdictions, figuring out if you're eligible to seal your record, and going through the sealing process, can be complicated. To get help, contact your local legal aid.

Completing the application

If you are eligible to seal your records, you will need to get the sealing application forms from the court where you were charged. Check the court's website for the forms, or call the Clerk of Court's office to ask where you can find them.

The court may have different packets to seal convictions and non-convictions, so make sure that you're filling out the right ones. Ask the court how many copies of the form they want you to file, and make at least one extra copy of the form so you can keep one for your records.

Carefully read the form and any instructions. Some courts require you to "serve," or send the forms to the prosecutor's office. Some courts will serve the prosecutor's office for you. Read the form carefully and complete all the steps included on the form.  

Take the completed form to the Clerk's office at the court where the charge was filed. 

There is no fee to seal a dismissal or a not guilty or no bill charge. If you apply to seal a conviction, there is a filing fee. The filing fee cannot be more than $50, no matter how many cases you want to seal. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you can use the "Poverty Affidavit" form to request to file without paying the fee upfront.

Attend the hearing

After you file your application, the court schedules a hearing date that is 45-90 days after the filing date. The prosecutor may file a written objection. Your case is still considered even if the prosecutor objects. You must go to your sealing hearing.

You must attend the hearing, where you and the prosecutor will present your sides. At the hearing, explain how your criminal record is hurting you. Examples of common problems your record might be giving you include making it hard to find a job or to find a place to live.

The judge has to decide whether you have been rehabilitated before sealing your record. If the prosecutor objects, the judge will also consider 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.

Show the judge that you have made changes in your life since your conviction. Give as many specific examples as you can. For instance, if you were convicted of a drug-related crime, you should mention any substance abuse treatment you completed. You may describe going to therapy, removing yourself from negative relationships or taking other steps.

The judge or magistrate will make the final decision about sealing your record after listening to both you and the prosecutor. Learn more about how to prepare for a hearing here.

After the hearing

If the judge denies your application and you do not understand why, you may want to speak with a lawyer. 

If the judge approves your application, it can take at least six weeks for the court, police and other agencies to seal the record.

Talking to a lawyer

Many legal aids in Ohio offer record sealing clinics where you can talk to a pro bono lawyer about your charges and how to apply for sealing.

If your criminal record is keeping you from getting a professional certification (for example, people with certain convictions cannot obtain certain medical certifications in Ohio) legal aid may also be able to help you obtain a Certificate for Qualification of Employment (CQE). Read more about CQEs here.

The Ohio Justice and Policy Center also offer clinics and provides detailed information on sealing and other ways to overcome problems caused by criminal records on their website. These include options for survivors of human trafficking, people with juvenile records, CQEs and Governor's pardons.

If you'd like to discuss your sealing case or other issue related to your criminal record with a lawyer, see the legal aid and private bar association contact information under "Legal Help and Lawyers."

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